Eells Street Bridge renamed to honor historic Fishing Wars site

yabuk’ʷali, “place of a fight”


Tacoma’s City Council on May 21 voted to renamed the Puyallup Avenue Bridge in honor of the historic Fishing Wars. Tribal Council Chairman Bill Sterud, Vice Chairman David Z. Bean and former Chairwoman Ramona Bennett addressed the City Council, in turns reminding them of Tacoma’s ugly past toward the Puyallup people but recognizing what the bridge symbolizes.

The bridge will now be known as yabuk’ʷali, a Twulshootseed word meaning “place of a fight.” The name, like the location of the historic Fishing Wars, is a “historically, educationally and culturally significant name,” the Land Use Department wrote in a letter to the Tribal Council and Tacoma City Council in October 2018.

Previously named the Puyallup Avenue, or Eells Street Bridge, yabuk’ʷali will stand as a reminder of the historic struggle, as well as the Puyallup people’s ongoing presence in the local community.

The name yabuk’ʷali will be displayed and translated on a plaque on an accessible part of the bridge. Jennifer Keating from the Land Use Planning Office wrote in a letter to the Landmarks Preservation Committee, the new name “will also commemorate a deeply meaningful tribal connection, both historical and cultural, to the City of Tacoma, a history that is often not taught in classrooms or acknowledged in the non-Native community.”

During the 1960s and 1970s, the Puyallup Avenue Bridge was the forefront of the battle of the Puyallup and other Coast Salish tribes, which led to securing their treaty granted fishing rights. While the battle was ongoing in the courts for over 150 years, Puyallup fishermen continued to fish at their usual and accustomed sites in order to support their families. While this was a right guaranteed in the 1854 Medicine Creek Treaty, fishermen were routinely arrested, beaten and violently removed from their waters. The resistance and violence escalated until the Boldt Decision of 1974 reasserted the Tribe’s treaty ensured rights.