Equity & Inclusion

HAP Equity and Inclusion Statement

The Human Access Project (HAP) is comprised of swimmers and river lovers committed to making the Willamette River a space of equity and inclusion that is safe and welcoming for all. Swimming and recreating in outdoor spaces can be both joyful and spiritual. The Willamette River is timeless. Its energy connects people and brings out the best in us.

HAP values and supports all communities of people, including Black, Indigenous, LatinX, Asian-Pacific Islanders and others who identify as people of color; as well as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, and Two Spirit (LGBTQIA2S+ with the + indicating this acronym is not complete); and people living with a disability. We seek collaborative partnerships with these communities to work together when our mission and values align.

HAP strives to help elevate the voices of these communities where their experiences are absent. We are also committed to advocating for their meaningful participation in public decision-making.

We are committed to working to change racist and discriminatory policies, practices, and attitudes – and to identifying and reducing barriers to developing a positive river recreation culture. We will also examine our own privileges and ask questions so we can avoid exclusion and ensure there is no adverse impact from our work.   

The Willamette River has attracted and connected people for thousands of years. Indigenous peoples from throughout the region lived on its banks year-round or seasonally, all drawn by its many gifts. They have a deep kinship with the river and have been its stewards since time immemorial. This intimate human connection to the river was damaged as European settlers who culturally believed and participated in manifest destiny arrived in the Willamette Valley.

Over the next two hundred years, the supremacist worldview these settlers brought with them dishonored both non-white peoples and the river. It resulted in the removal of the area’s Indigenous people to reservations and the founding of a white-only state with exclusionary, discriminatory laws for people of color.

As a result, these discrimination laws have had an adverse impact on the African American community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost ten accidental drownings occur in the US daily that amounts to 3,500 individuals drowning every year. It is alarming to note that Black/African-American children have a drowning rate three times higher than their white peers. Swimming is a crucial life skill and swimming proficiency is essential for saving lives, and all children should have access to it.

Not only were black people prohibited from owning property and entering into contracts. As recently as the 1960s, Black people were banned from swimming at public facilities in Portland. HAP strives to support all children to become confident, skilled swimmers, and to reduce water-related injuries in all communities.

White supremacy extended to the natural world, too, resulting in the industrialization, channelization, and pollution of the Willamette River; the killing or poisoning of its once-abundant fish runs; and the destruction of habitat along its shores, impacting those who work on the river.

The Portland Harbor is a Superfund site due to extreme contamination of the river’s sediment. As a result, it is unhealthy to consume resident fish from the Willamette River in Portland. This pollution disproportionally impacts the neighborhoods of North Portland, where the Superfund site is located. Despite these actions, the river, like those who fight to protect it, has been resilient and still draws people to it.

White supremacy and institutional and systemic racism remain ingrained in our society. Racist and discriminatory practices in outdoor spaces continue to marginalize non-white communities, many of whom have been (and continue to be) intimidated, harassed, and assaulted. To achieve meaningful change, we must understand the history and intersecting experiences of all people that have led to where we are today.

The trauma caused by racist and discriminatory acts is passed on generationally. HAP is committed to lead with heart, ears, and patience. We will work hard to help heal scars, right wrongs, develop trust, and inspire a love for the Willamette River and the outdoors. As part of our mission to “Transform Portland’s relationship with the Willamette River”, we will strive to create culture, change culture, and shape culture in Portland. May it lead to a better world for all of us.