Washington committee hears proposals to change derogatory names of geographic features

View of the Enchantment Basin from Prusik Pass in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in Washington's Cascades. (Jeffrey Pang // CC BY 2.0)

Washington Indigenous tribes have proposed new names for several natural locations around the state. This follows orders from the U.S. Department of the Interior to rename geographic features with derogatory names.

The Washington State Committee on Geographic Names has been working to remove such names for years.

Specifically, the committee and tribes are looking to remove the word ‘squaw’—an ethnic and sexual slur historically used to refer to Indigenous women. The word is considered universally offensive by Native Americans and First Nation people. In 2021, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland declared the term to be derogatory, and formally ordered it be removed from names of natural locations.

The Department of the Interior originally suggested renaming features to names like ‘White,’ ‘Columbia,’ ‘Bonneville’ or ‘Franklin Delano Roosevelt,’ but the committee argued in April that this was an inappropriate solution.

In total, the committee received 17 proposals from the Yakama Nation, Colville Tribes, Quinault Indian Nation. Of them, 11 were accepted for final consideration.

Most proposals look to rename geographical features to phrases or names in Indigenous languages—for example, two Columbia River islands in Klickitat County would be named "Sq’wanana," meaning "two sitting on lap" in the Wishxam language. A stream in Skamania County that flows into Little White Salmon River would be named "Shluxiksikswana," meaning "the eating place."

Others are named for notable people. A lake in Skamania County southeast of Blue Lake would be named "Aalvic Wahtum" in honor of Lucille Aalvic, a Yakama Nation woman removed from her home and family by the Army Corps of Engineers during the construction of the Bonneville Dam. An unnamed mountain in Whatcom County will be named "Kloke Peak" after Dallas Kloke, an Anacortes mountain climber who ascended the peak in 1972.

Others still are officially changed to the names traditionally used by tribes. For example, a certain 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 DNR.

Further name changes aim to correct spelling errors—such as renaming Okanogan County’s Riser Lake to "Rizeor Lake" after homesteader Henry Rizeor, or San Juan County’s Reads Bay to "Reeds Bay" after Tacee and John P. Reed, who settled on Decatur Island in the 1860s.

Once the committee approves these proposals, they forward them to the Board of Natural Resources. If the board accepts them, they are officially added into Washington Administrative Code and sent to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names for federal review.

For more information, visit the DNR’s page for the Committee on Geographic Names.

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Currently, the full list of approved recommendations are as follows:

  • The pair of Columbia River islands in Klickitat County would be named Sq’wanana, meaning "two sitting on lap." The name would reflect the names of the islands in the Wishxam language.
  • The Skamania County lake southeast of Blue Lake would be named Aalvic Wahtum, after Lucille Aalvic. Aalvic was a citizen of the Yakama Nation who lived in Stevenson after being removed from her original family site by the Army Corps of Engineers during the construction of the Bonneville Dam. Aalvic was the first officially enrolled citizen of the Yakama Nation.
  • The Skamania County butte would be named Pataniks Pushtye, referencing the name of Lulukash, the child of the woman for whom the nearby twin buttes are named.
  • The Skamania County creek along East Canyon Ridge would be named Timla Wapykt from the traditional name of the adjacent butte, Timla-Timla Pushtye, meaning "little heart mountain of that shape."
  • The Skamania County stream that flows into the Little White Salmon River would be named Shluxiksikswana, meaning "the eating place," after the name of the Klickitat village site within the drainage.
  • The peak in Columbia County would be named Wenaha Peak after the Wenaha River, which runs below. Wenaha is a Cayuse place name, and the peak is in the traditional territory of the Chief Joseph Band of Nez Perce.
  • The spring in Garfield County would be named Tucannon Spring, after the nearby Tucannon River. The name is a distortion of the word "tukanin," which means "bread root" and is an important food source.
  • The peak in Okanogan County would be renamed Condon Mountain, after a well-established family in the Kartar Valley on the Colville Reservation. The name comes from the associated Condon Spring.
  • The creek in Okanogan County would be renamed West Fork Frosty Creek, as the creek is a tributary of Frosty Creek.
  • The creek in Stevens County would be renamed Snqilt Creek, after the name for the area above Little Dalles to Northport where the creek is located. 
  • The derogatorily named creek in Jefferson County would be renamed Noskeliikuu, meaning "the place where the whale dropped." The name has been used in Quinault tribal histories for at least four generations.
  • In addition to the naming proposals for initial approval that came in the wake of the Secretary of the Interior’s executive order, the Committee approved one further proposal for initial consideration. Reads Bay in San Juan County would be renamed to Reeds Bay. The change corrects the spelling of the name to that of Tacee and John P. Reed, the first settlers on Decatur Island in the late 1860s.
  • After the Committee approves a proposal for final consideration, it solicits comments on that proposal from local and tribal governments, and members of the public who may have an interest in a new name or a name change. The Committee considers these comments when deciding whether to recommend that the Board of Natural Resources approve a name proposal.
  • In addition to the approval for initial consideration of the tribal proposals, the Committee approved the names of a lake in Okanogan County and a peak in Whatcom County during the meeting. 
  • 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 proper spelling of Rizeor’s surname. 
  • A mountain without an official name would be named Kloke Peak in honor of Dallas Kloke, an Anacortes mountaineer who completed the first documented ascent of the peak in 1972. Kloke died in 2010 during a climbing accident in the North Cascades.