And Then There Were 4: Indigenous Names for New State Ferry

Richard Walker, Indian Country Today


The Washington State Transportation Commission is considering four indigenous names for its newest 144-car state ferry.

The names proposed, in alphabetical order, are: Chimacum, Cowlitz, Sammamish, and Suquamish. Construction of the ferry is scheduled to begin this fall. The commission will accept public comment on the proposed names in October and is scheduled to announce its selection on November 19.

Semi-finalists that didn’t make the final list: Illahee, the name of an earlier state ferry; Tukwila, a Duwamish place name; Nawt-sa-mat, the name of a new regional coalition of Natives and non-Natives working to protect the environmental health of the Salish Sea; and Taina, the name of the hawk that leads the Seattle Seahawks football team out of the tunnel before its home games.

RELATED: Eight Indigenous Names Proposed for New State Ferry

Chimacum, Cowlitz, Sammamish and Suquamish are First Peoples of the state.

According to the Quileute Tribe, the Chimacum were a remnant of the Quileute. They were signatories to the 1855 Treaty of Point No Point, and many S’Klallam and Skokomish peoples can trace their ancestry to the Chimacum. A town in Jefferson County is named Chimacum.

The Cowlitz Tribe “provided key assistance with pioneer transportation and commercial activities in what some historians refer to as the Cowlitz Corridor, which linked the Columbia River valley with South Puget Sound communities long before Washington Territory was established,” the commission reported. “The Washington Territorial Legislature honored the Tribe by naming one of our earliest counties for them.”

The largest Sammamish village was tlah-WAH-dees at the mouth of the Sammamish River. “In 1855, the United States government signed the Treaty of Point Elliott with the putative leaders of most of the Puget Sound Tribes and they were relocated,” the commission reported. “Descendants of the Sammamish dispersed into other tribes, including the Suquamish, Snoqualmie and Tulalip.”

The Suquamish people have lived in Central Puget Sound for approximately 10,000 years. The major Suquamish winter village was at Old Man House on the shoreline of Agate Passage at d’suq’wub, meaning “clear salt water.” The Suquamish name translates into the “people of the clear salt water” in Lushootseed. Chief Seattle, namesake of the city and first signer of the Point Elliott Treaty, was an ancestral leader of the Suquamish Tribe born in 1786 at the Old Man House Village.