PORTLAND, Ore. – While navigating immediate term challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) is planning to expand science education for the community and build an endowment through the development of its property located on the southeast bank of the Willamette River in Portland’s Central Eastside. The 76-year-old science institution and newly engaged partners are envisioning and planning a new sustainable neighborhood, waterfront education park, and inclusive community destination that restores the Native community’s presence on the Willamette in the central city.
As OMSI advances the vision for the district and prepares for approval of the OMSI District master plan, it has engaged new partners. Metro recently awarded a grant to OMSI and the City of Portland to engage a broad coalition of partners to explore the possibility for the development of a Center for Tribal Nations.
Led by the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI) and Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), the project seeks to leverage the redevelopment of the OMSI property to model a new partnership between the museum, tribal and intertribal organizations, and the City of Portland to restore the Native community’s presence on the Willamette and address the shared challenges of sustainability, resilience, and inclusion.
In addition, OMSI has partnered with Portland Community College (PCC) and the Portland Opera to engage them in master planning for the district. Their collaboration creates new opportunities to co-develop district-wide programming and leverage transportation investments through coordinated development to connect Portlanders to the city center.
“For many years, OMSI has been a critical partner for the larger Portland community and served as a center for knowledge, growth, the exchange of information, as well as a catalyst for the community to better understand the world around them,” said James Parker, deputy director of Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI).
Parker said OMSI and its partners are creating a model for other public-private partnerships across the country that can serve as a catalyst for educating the public about tribal people’s past, present, and future.
“This project serves as a reconciliation for Native People. It underscores that they need to be present, acknowledged, visible, and provided space,” said Laura John, tribal relations director for the City of Portland. “Ultimately, as the city works towards our vision of making Portland a destination location for Native People—whether they're coming to visit or live and work here—having that space will help accomplish that vision.”
As a part of Metro’s grant, OMSI and its partners will host listening sessions this spring to engage with key groups from the community for the development of a waterfront education park. This process will include Native communities and stakeholders representing a wide variety of interests, such as bikers and commuters, birders and conservationists, and educators and swimmers. These sessions will provide an opportunity for stakeholders to share their ideas for how the waterfront might be developed to create an inclusive community destination.
The waterfront education park will serve as an extension of OMSI’s mission to educate about Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) while framing it within the context of cultural, historic, and tribal knowledge relative to the Willamette River.
“What piqued our interest was the waterfront education aspect of it, which really meshes well with our goals,” said Jeremy FiveCrows, public affairs specialist with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fishing Commission (CRITFC). “When you connect the city to a healthy, natural river, it allows you to reimagine the possibilities of how a river ecosystem can coexist with a city. In the end, we would like for people to understand why salmon and healthy rivers are important not only to tribes, but also why they should be important to everybody.”
FiveCrows said he looks forward to the day when people can learn about the river—its history and the people who have lived there before—and how they can make a positive impact on its future.
“As people learn about the river, they get interested. As their interest grows and they learn more, they become advocates. As they advocate for the river, they start to take action. And once people start to take action on behalf of the river, things change for the good,” he said.
Plans for the OMSI district currently include:
- 10 city blocks with up to three million square feet of new transit-oriented development, including over one million square feet of office space
- Up to 1,000 units of new housing, including a minimum of 20 percent affordable units
- Public gathering spaces to provide connection, renewal, and culturally relevant and educational programs and events
- A waterfront education park
- Next-generation sustainable urban development
About Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians
In 1953 farsighted tribal leaders in the Northwest formed the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, and dedicated it to tribal sovereignty and self-determination. Today, ATNI is a nonprofit organization representing over 50 Northwest tribal governments from Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Alaska, California and Montana. Where it is appropriate, ATNI develops and pursues regional strategies for the development, protection and advancement of the interests of member Tribes.
About Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fishing Commission
The Portland-based Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission was formed in 1977 as the technical support and coordinating agency for fishery management policies of the Columbia Basin’s four treaty fishing tribes: the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, and the Nez Perce Tribe. CRITFC’s four primary efforts are to put fish back in the rivers and restore the rivers where they live, protect treaty fishing rights, provide tribal fisher services, and share salmon culture.
Founded in 1944, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) is one of the nation’s leading science museums, a world-class tourist attraction, and an award-winning educational resource for the kid in each of us. OMSI operates the largest museum-based outdoor science education program in the country and provides traveling and community outreach programs that bring science learning opportunities to schools and community organizations in every county in Oregon and throughout the region. OMSI is located at 1945 SE Water Avenue, Portland, OR 97214. For general information, call 503.797.4000 or visit omsi.edu.