A campaign is underway to rename Lane County in honor of the region’s original Indigenous inhabitants.

The county’s namesake is Joseph Lane, Oregon’s first territorial governor. Critics have said his pro-slavery sentiments and actions against Native Americans doesn’t align with today’s values.

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A new mural at Westmoreland Park in Eugene titled "Willamette Wetlands of the Kalapuya" depicts early Indigenous people with native plants.

A new mural at Westmoreland Park in Eugene titled "Willamette Wetlands of the Kalapuya" depicts early Indigenous people with native plants.

Courtesy of Beyond Toxics / KLCC

Following up on an opinion piece he wrote for the Register-Guard two years ago, Richard Pettigrew of the Archaeological Legacy Institute in Eugene says he’s pushing to change Lane County to “Kalapuya County,” to reflect a more truthful narrative.

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“The Americas didn’t begin with Christopher Columbus. People have been here for at least 15,000 years,” he told KLCC. “The Kalapuya are our link to that longer, deeper past. The Kalapuya people are not extinct, they are here. Their descendants are here. They’re part of our community.”

“So by changing the name,” he added, “we are connecting ourselves to a deeper history.”

Pettigrew said he hopes people petition county commissioners to back his efforts. He added a new grant opportunity through the Gannett Foundation and the Register-Guard has allowed the campaign to get back on track, following disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a press release, Pettigrew adds, “Actions envisioned by the project include investigation of the legal landscape, which we understand will require electoral approval of the name change; exploring ramifications, such as prospective name changes for Lane Community College and others; compiling Kalapuya place names to put on our map; making use of some Kalapuya vocabulary in our communications; inclusion of Kalapuya history and culture in school curricula; providing more accessible information for the public about Kalapuya history, culture, lifeways, and prehistory; and promoting the commissioning of a statue in Eugene to honor our Kalapuya forebears. Without a doubt, other ideas along these lines will emerge.”

Another option commissioners have looked at is keeping “Lane County” but in honor of Harry Lane, Joseph Lane’s more progressive son who served as mayor of Portland and was a U.S. Senator noted for his opposition to American imperialism.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the name of the Archaeological Legacy Institute.

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