Committee Approves Naming Proposals Honoring Black, Indigenous History
January 19, 2023
Proposals in Garfield, Okanogan, Mason counties will be presented to the Board of Natural Resources for adoption
The Washington State Committee on Geographic Names approved two proposals to rename features in Mason County for early Black settlers of the Kitsap Peninsula and two proposals to rename features bearing a derogatory term that refers to Indigenous women during its meeting Thursday morning.
Two proposals came in the wake of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s orders last year to rename geographic features throughout the country that have derogatory names. The Board of Natural Resources adopted the first nine name changes stemming from the federal order during its meeting Tuesday.
In addition to the approval of the four proposals, the Committee advanced to final review the names of a saltwater passage in Jefferson County and a ditch in Thurston County during the meeting.
A spring in Garfield County would be named South 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 spring previously bore a name derogatory to Native American women.
A 10.5-acre lake 2 miles north of Tahuya would be renamed Nathaniel Sargent Lake, in honor of a Black man born into slavery who homesteaded in Seabeck and became a fixture in the community before dying in 1954. The lake is currently named Grass Lake, after being renamed from Negro Slough in the 1990s. That name replaced the previous name, which included a racial slur toward Black people.
An unnamed 18-acre wetland 2 miles north of Tahuya would be named Rodney White Slough. White, who was born into slavery in Missouri, moved to Mason County in 1890 and homesteaded there, and some of the roads he built then are still in use today. After White’s death in 1913, the slough where his orchard had been was given a name that included a racial slur toward Black people.
The naming history of the two Mason County features is convoluted because of the multiple prior changes to the names of the features involved.
A creek in Okanogan County would be renamed Gooseberry Creek, reflecting the plants that grow nearby. The 2-mile-long stream just outside Aeneas is a tributary of Frosty Creek. The creek previously bore a name derogatory to Native American women.
Once names receive final approval from the Committee on Geographic Names, they are presented to the Board of Natural Resources for adoption. Adopted names are then sent to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names for federal approval.
The following two proposals were approved for final consideration Thursday and will be heard at the next Committee on Geographic Names meeting:
The passage between Marrowstone Island and Indian Island would be named A Passage Through, the translation of the Clallam word “Scɬəqʷ.” This is a traditional place name for the passage, which was a significant travel route for S’Klallam and Chemacum peoples in the 18th and 19th centuries before being blocked by a causeway for approximately 100 years. The passage was reopened in 2019, reconnecting Kilisut Harbor with Oak Bay to its south.
A ditch in Thurston County south of Tumwater would be named Hopkins Ditch, a name it has unofficially borne since 1902. The manmade improvement, which dates back to at least 1878, serves 143 property owners and drains into Salmon Creek.
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.
Detailed information on all initial and final proposals, including maps, historical information, and supporting documentation can be found on the Board of Natural Resources page under the About tab on the DNR website. Information on the policies and procedures of the Committee can be found in the same location.
About the Washington State Committee on Geographic Names
The Committee, which meets at least twice annually, assists the Board of Natural Resources in approving official names for Washington state geographic features. It is made up of a representative of the Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, a representative of the State Librarian, the director of the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, a representative of Washington state tribes, and three members of the public.