5 Washington locations with ‘derogatory names’ renamed

Jun 12, 2023, 10:04 AM | Updated: 12:15 pm

derogatory names...

Cayou Channel (photo from Flikr)

(photo from Flikr)

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has approved several proposals submitted by local tribes to rename geographic locations around the state whose names have been deemed derogatory.

The five new names were unanimously approved by the Committee on Geographic Names. These are the last of a group of 18 up for change.

As WA changes racially derogatory place names, alternatives risk ‘erasing women, history of land’

The new locations include a lake west of Lake Wenatchee in Chelan County, which was renamed to Masawii Lake; the passage between Marrowstone Island and Indian Island, which was renamed to Passage Through; and a lake nine miles north of Cle Elum that was renamed to Nosh Nosh Wahtum.

Swaram Creek Ridge also had its name officially changed, after it was unofficially changed in 2018. Hopkins Ditch in Thurston County has also been officially renamed to Hopkins Ditch after being unofficially called Hopkins Ditch since 1902.

This is part of a wider directive from the United States Department of the Interior to rename locations with offensive names, and the renaming process has been going on for years.

The DNR committee was specifically looking at locations that used the term “squaw,” an ethnic and sexual slur against indigenous women. In 2021, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland declared the term to be derogatory and formally ordered it be removed from the names of natural locations.

“Words matter, particularly in our work to make our nation’s public lands and waters accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds. Consideration of these replacements is a big step forward in our efforts to remove derogatory terms whose expiration dates are long overdue,” Haaland said in a statement when announcing the order. “Throughout this process, broad engagement with Tribes, stakeholders, and the general public will help us advance our goals of equity and inclusion.”

The committee received proposals from the Yakama Nation, Colville Tribes, and Quinault Indian Nation, many of which have been accepted as the new official names for many geographic locations.

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Most of the names reflect the original tribal names used by native groups. For example, a creek in Jefferson County would be renamed to Noskeliikuu (meaning “the place where the whale dropped”), which has been used in Quinault tribal histories for at least four generations according to the DNR.

Others act as updates and corrections, such as a lake northwest of Winthrop would be named Rizeor Lake for Henry Rizeor, a homesteader who owned the property around the lake. The lake is informally known in the area as Riser Lake, and this would formalize the correct spelling of Rizeor’s surname.

More name changes are currently up for consideration, including Mary Pamela Falls, Wild Plum Creek, and Salish Fjord.

For a complete list of the locations with new names or to submit a comment on the changes, you can visit the DNR’s page for the Committee on Geographic Names.

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5 Washington locations with ‘derogatory names’ renamed