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Tacoma bridge renamed to commemorate painful Puyallup tribal history

Rendering of the new Fishing Wars Memorial Bridge.
Courtesy of Chris Storey
Rendering of the new Fishing Wars Memorial Bridge.

A Tacoma bridge that was on the frontline of the Puyallup Tribe’s fight for its fishing rights now has a name to commemorate that history. Today, tribal leaders gather to dedicate the Fishing Wars Memorial Bridge, formerly known as the Puyallup River Bridge.

The new bridge also bears another name.

“Yabok Ali – a place of a fight,” Puyallup Tribal Chairman David Bean said in his native language.

That fight lasted through the 1960s and into the ’70s as the tribe's fisherman faced violence and arrests at the hands of law enforcement, all in an effort to exercise treaty fishing rights.

The conflict gained national attention as tribal members staged protests, called “fish-ins.”

Bean recalled meeting one elder from a tribe in Florida, who had come to take part in the protests.

“And he goes ‘there was this bridge that was caught on fire’ – and I was like ‘that was our community, that was our river,’ I remember that story about the bridge being set on fire,” Bean said. “So, one thing I always like to acknowledge is our ancestors, and our elders and our relatives from all directions, they came together.”

A court ruling in 1974 finally affirmed the tribe’s legal standing. And Bean says renaming the bridge is a step toward reconciliation with the City of Tacoma.

“Our hope is that folks who cross the Yabok Ali bridge is they see the name, they feel compelled to look it up, and learn more about the battle that took place, the significance of it and the people that occupied this land,” he said.

The bridge, which spans the Puyallup River, has been under construction and will reopen to traffic in the fall.

Will Stone is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.