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Saying it’s offensive, the Nooksack Tribe wants the state to change this creek’s name

Nooksack Tribe proposes name change for Whatcom County’s Squaw Creek

Whatcom County's Squaw Creek flows east of Lynden, Wash., on June 3, 2019. The Nooksack Tribe says the name is offensive and is asking the Washington state Committee on Geographic Names to change the name back to its traditional name.
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Whatcom County's Squaw Creek flows east of Lynden, Wash., on June 3, 2019. The Nooksack Tribe says the name is offensive and is asking the Washington state Committee on Geographic Names to change the name back to its traditional name.

The Nooksack Indian Tribe wants the state to change the name of Squaw Creek in north Whatcom County.

The word “squaw,” is offensive George Swanaset Jr. wrote to the Washington state Committee on Geographic Names.

It is viewed as a derogatory term by the Nooksack people specifically and by native people in general, according to Swanaset Jr., who is the tribe’s cultural/natural resource director.

Tribal leaders said the name should be changed back to what it was originally, which was Páatstel Creek.

“The proper historical name is important to be used as recognition to the first people of this territory, the Nooksacks,” Swanaset Jr. wrote.

He added: “The creek known as ‘Squaw Creek’ is located in Nooksack Territory. The Nooksack name for this creek was Páatstel, which was associated with a historical Nooksack village near the source.”

Swanaset Jr. said Páatstel was the name used from “time immemorial to the time the first settlers changed it.”

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A sign along east Badger Road in Whatcom County marks Squaw Creek Monday. The Nooksack Tribe says the name is offensive and is asking the Washington state Committee on Geographic Names to change the name Páatstel Creek, which was its traditional name. Lacey Young The Bellingham Herald

Information about the creek’s name came from the verbal testimony of Nooksack elders as well as family knowledge and can be found in the book, “Nooksack Place Names Geography, Culture, and Language,” according to Swanaset Jr.

The creek is between Lynden and Sumas.

It drains Pangborn Lake and empties into Johnson Creek near Sumas, he added.

Whatcom County Council member Carol Frazey wrote to the Committee on Geographic Names in support of the name change.

She said she became involved after Ross Cline Sr., chairman of the Nooksack Tribal Council, wrote an email to members of the County Council requesting the change because the current name was offensive.

“I support the name change from Squaw Creek to Páatstel Creek,” Frazey told The Bellingham Herald in an email.

“The word ‘squaw’ is racist and is a sexual slur toward Native American women,” she added. “If we had a creek within our county with an English name that had equivalent meaning, it would have been changed years ago.”

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Squaw Creek, from Trapline Road in Whatcom County, flows through a field Monday. The Nooksack Tribe says the name is offensive and is asking the Washington state Committee on Geographic Names to change the name Páatstel Creek, which was its traditional name. Lacey Young The Bellingham Herald

The state Committee on Geographic Names on Thursday moved the request forward for final consideration. That means that at its next meeting, likely in October, the committee will weigh the request and public comments before deciding.

The Nooksacks’ request was among those taken up by the committee on Thursday.

Committee members also agreed to change the name of Squaw Saddle near Wenatchee in Chelan County to Saddle Gap.

The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation supported the name change, which also reflected local use, according to the committee.

Once approved by the committee, the names are then forwarded to the state Board of Natural Resources for a final decision. From there, they go — along with the state’s recommendations — to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names for federal consideration.

Learn more

Committee on Geographic Names: dnr.wa.gov. Look under “headlines” on the lower right of the home page for additional information about the naming proposal in Whatcom County and elsewhere in Washington state.

Kie Relyea has been a reporter at The Bellingham Herald since 1997 and currently writes about social services and recreation in Whatcom County. She started her career in 1991 as a reporter and editor in Northern California.
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