Campus graffiti marks Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Photograph by Amelia Madarang

In the early morning of Oct. 11, several Lewis & Clark buildings were spray-painted with graffiti regarding the legacy of LC’s name in conjunction with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

The spray-painted messages were spread throughout all three LC campuses. One message at the law school read “Laws justify oppression.” Another message reading “Wim Killed J. Washington,” left in the lower Griswold parking lot, referenced a similar incident that occurred in January 2021, in which graffiti messages and flyers were posted criticizing President Wim Wiewel’s role in Portland State University campus police’s killing of Jason Washington.

Many of the messages reiterated a common theme of returning the land back to Indigenous peoples. Others called out the legacy left by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s expedition, stating “Lewis+Clark Committed Genocide” and “Change the Name.” These statements reflected an ongoing discussion regarding a possible renaming of the institution. 

The spray-painted messages also gained the attention of the public outside of LC. The Instagram account @radicalgraffiti, which has over 96,000 followers, posted pictures of the graffiti on campus, with the caption “Anti-colonial graff(iti) seen on Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.” 

In an email statement sent to the LC community later that day, Wiewel reflected on Indigenous Peoples’ Day. 

“It is important to acknowledge the ancestors of this place, and to honor their legacy, their lives, and their descendants,” Wiewel said.

He also addressed the graffiti that had confronted the “challenging nature” of LC’s history. 

“I acknowledge the depth of anger and pain this issue engenders,” Wiewel said. “We might disagree about how to deliver the message, but it is imperative that all of us, as critical thinkers and as lifelong learners, reflect on the dynamics of power that have shaped our community and commit ourselves to do better.”

Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students Robin Holmes-Sullivan also provided a statement on the graffiti in The Bark.

“Today is Indigenous People’s Day. Our institution was founded on indigenous land and is named for white colonizers, which makes today especially weighty, and for many, painful,” Holmes-Sullivan said. “Very early this morning, this pain and anger about the legacy of colonization was expressed in multiple acts of graffiti across all three of our schools. Please be extra attentive today to caring for one another as we grapple with the trauma that can result from systems of power and oppression.” 

Professor of History and Director of Ethnic Studies Elliot Young voiced his support for a potential future LC name change, a sentiment expressed by some of the graffiti.

“I am in favor of changing the name of the college from Lewis & Clark because of these explorers’ role in the colonization of the Pacific Northwest and the destruction of Indigenous communities,” Young said in an email statement. “A name change can be an opportunity for the college to create stronger ties to Indigenous communities in the region and figure out ways that we can serve them.” 

Young also warned of changing the name of the college without creating  stronger ties to Indigenous communities. 

“There is no way to undo the damage done by colonialism, but we can attempt to repair past harm as the college moves forward into the twenty-first century,” Young said. “In the end, new letterhead is cheap and doing the right thing is invaluable.” 

LC is located on the ancestral homelands of the Multnomah, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Tumwater and Watalala bands of the Chinook, the Tualatin Kalapuya and many other Indigenous nations of the Columbia River. 

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