Renaming Lane County would require a ballot question, but the Board of Commissioners could vote to rededicate the county to someone other than General Joseph Lane, county staff said.
The power to rename is limited because of the charter, county spokeswoman Devon Ashbridge told county officials during a brief discussion Tuesday
“According to our charter, any name change must be approved by Lane County voters,” Ashbridge said.
The board has the power to rededicate the county by formally renouncing Joseph Lane and selecting a different Lane or no person at all to honor, she said. Officials also could refer that question to voters, she said.
The county is in early discussions about renaming or rededicating, and Tuesday’s discussion was a report back on a legal analysis.
Commissioner Heather Buch said the county should engage the public before moving forward.
“This is really the public’s discussion to have,” Buch said. “I would hope that we would ensure our equity team has had a thorough review and input as well as the NAACP and, most importantly to me, our tribal community, as that specifically is the one that is so affected by the original naming of Joseph Lane to this community.”
Joseph Lane, the county’s namesake, was Oregon’s first territorial governor. Critics have said his pro-slavery sentiments and actions against Native Americans don’t align with today’s values.
Some are pushing to rename the county “Kalapuya County” to honor the Native American cultural and linguistic group whose original territory encompassed the Willamette Valley and areas southward to Yoncalla and the Umpqua River.
Racist roots have prompted the renaming of buildings, streets and more across the country in recent years, including at the University of Oregon.
Who was Joseph Lane?
Joseph Lane was born in North Carolina in December 1801, according to research compiled by the county.
He lived in Kentucky from age nine until his 20s, when he moved to Indiana and served in the state legislature. He joined the military and was a colonel in the Mexican War then attained the rank of major-general in 1847 before his discharge in 1848.
President James Polk appointed Lane territorial governor of Oregon in 1848, and he arrived in March 1849 to begin his duties, which included traveling to Walla Walla country to secure the surrender of five Cayuse Native Americans accused in relation to the Whitman Massacre. The five were later convicted and hanged.
Lane County was formed in 1851 and named after Joseph Lane, who went on to serve as a congressional delegate and as U.S. Senator for Oregon from 1859 to 1861.
Lane’s pro-slavery sympathies limited his political career in the 1860s, the staff memo adds.
He owned at least one slave – a 10-year-old Native American boy that he was given by a chief after a battle between two tribes – and held an “apprenticeship” over a young man after slavery became illegal. The type of apprenticeship Lane held is “often recognized as a legalized form of slavery,” the staff memo reads.
Lane also led actions of violence against Native Americans.
What would it take to stop honoring Lane?
The county could stop honoring Joseph Lane in one of two ways: By renaming or by rededicating.
While Lane County is a home rule county, the charter specifies that the county name “shall continue to be Lane County.”
That means a name change would require changing the charter, which can only happen through a vote during an election, Ashbridge said.
Rededicating could happen either through the Board of Commissioners or a vote on a ballot measure.
A vote to rededicate would keep the name “Lane County” while renouncing Joseph Lane’s legacy.
Would it definitely be Kalapuya County?
County officials’ discussion did not include any potential new names.
There is a group pushing to rename Lane County as Kalapuya County after a proposal in 2020 by David Lewis, an assistant professor in the School of Language, Culture, and Society at Oregon State University, and Esther Stutzman. Lewis and Stutzman are Kalapuyan descendants.
That's a community effort, said Ashbridge, and "doesn't reflect any decision-making by the board."
The Kalapuya are a Native American cultural and linguistic group whose original territory encompassed the Willamette Valley and areas southward to Yoncalla and the Umpqua River.
Many Kalapuyan descendants today are members of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, located in the Coast Range between Salem and Lincoln City. The government forcibly resettled their ancestors in the 1850s into what later became the Grand Ronde Reservation.
There’s more information about the effort to establish “Kalapuya County” at archaeologychannel.org/events-guide/kalapuya-county/3191-establishing-kalapuya-county. The campaign also was the focus of a City Club of Eugene forum in September.
Tuesday's presentation fulfilled a board assignment to address questions about the legality of renaming or rededicating the county, Ashbridge said.
It would take another board assignment for the discussion to continue in another meeting, she said.
This article originally appeared on Register-Guard: Lane County has 3 options on proposal to change county name