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Soft Earth Hard Ground

A walk sponsored by Vanport Mosaic as part of memory activism and the 75th anniversary of the Vanport Flood on Saturday Mary 27, 2023.

Walk with me. This watery land is designated as the Peninsula Drainage District. It is a managed landscape has many names and no name at all. Historically, this area has been viewed as a disposal wasteland. Yet it has been the site of an Indigenous Wapato gathering ground, the ship workers’ City of Vanport, the Japanese Relocation Center, stockyards, a meatpacking plant, West Delta Park, the Portland International Raceway, and a golf course. The map changes almost every decade with shifting lakes, sloughs, and wetlands. Walk with me and experience this place with respect and possibly new understanding.                             

The Place

We respectfully acknowledge that this walk is on the unceded, traditional, and ancestral lands of the Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde who include: the Kalapuya, Clatskanie, Cowlitz, Chinook, Multnomah, and Clackamas peoples.

photo credit – Horatio Law

Vanport Wetland - gives us a glimpse of the watery land before it was filled and pumped - 'managed'.

Steph Littlebird is an artist, writer, curator, and a registered member of the Grand Ronde Confederated Tribes. She is the curator of “This IS Kalapuyan Land,” an exhibition which is currently on display at Pittock Mansion, Portland, OR.  Littlebird contributed to the walk by donating her design, graphics and support. 

photo credits – Horatio Law

Toby Query, an ecological advocate and steward of Portland's natural areas.


The city of Vanport was once home to 42,000 people. It was built on the wetlands in 110 days to house the ship workers and their families during WW II - it was far more than a housing project. Vanport was an integrated community with 24 hour day care, schools, churches, a cafeteria, a recreation center and fire and police departments. After the war, it remained one of the few places people of color could live in the deeply racist town of Portland.

In May 1948, The Columbia River rose to flood stage, but the residents were not evacuated. One former Vanport resident, Rosa Lee Washington, remembers the flood. “One Sunday, they had put this slip under our door in Vanport, saying don't be alarmed everything is okay. People thought so. Well, that Sunday about 4:00p.m. the dike collapsed and In about 10 minutes everything was washed away.”       We are walking on this ground.

photo credit – Horatio Law

Meet the Guest Artists

photo credit – Horatio Law

photo credit – Ethan Laarman

 Flowing with the land: Earth and Water, making and holding vessels

photo credit – Horatio Law

What are the social and emotional implications of visibility.

photo credit – Horatio Law

Responding to place, working with plants, engaging and collaborating with others to create work and shared experience.

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