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Proposal to rename Harney Channel passes major milestone

  • Tue Nov 16th, 2021 1:30am
  • News

Submitted by Ken Carrasco.

The Washington State Board of Geographic Names voted unanimously in a recent meeting to advance a proposal which seeks to rename Harney Channel in the San Juan Islands to Cayou Channel into the Final Consideration phase.

During this phase, staff working for the Board will solicit comments from the residents of the community, the tribes, and governmental entities before a Final Consideration vote, projected to occur at the Board’s meeting in April of next year. Should the proposal be passed at that time, it will be sent to the federal level for its consideration.

The authors of this proposal, Ken Carrasco of Orcas Island and Stephanie Buffum of Shaw Island, initiated the proposal last year after learning of General William Harney’s history of brutality including his atrocities against indigenous people in Nebraska while commanding the Harney Massacre at Ash Hollow in 1845, his brutal murder of a black woman in Missouri in 1836, and his role as Commander in 1859 when he greatly escalated the potential for war in the islands. Harney only visited the islands once for an overnight visit just before the “Pig War” and almost certainly never came to the channel that bears his name.

Instead of honoring Harney, Carrasco and Buffum are proposing that the Channel be renamed to honor Henry Cayou, who was born on Orcas Island in 1869 and inhabited the San Juan Islands throughout his 90 years of life. Cayou was half Coast Salish and remains the only Native American to serve on the San Juan County Council/Commission, a post he held for 27 years, and he was chair for many of them. He was a commercial fisherman with a processing plant in Deer Harbor, operated a boatyard on Decatur Island, and owned a farm on Waldron Island. Henry Cayou moved easily in both the indigenous and European worlds, leaving many relatives and accomplishments which have benefitted the islands beyond his lifetime. Without question, he transited this particular channel hundreds of times.

To gauge community support for the proposal, a petition was established last spring at change.org/renameharney and, to date, more than 848 people have signed this petition in support of the proposal. Visitors to that site can still sign the petition and leave comments if they wish. Also, the well-respected news organization Indian Country Today has covered the proposal with both an article and a video interview with a local journalist.

Comments about this proposal can be sent by email to Caleb Maki at the Board of Geographic Names at bogn@dnr.wa.gov, and comments will also be accepted by mail addressed to Caleb Maki, WA State Committee on Geographic Names, PO Box 47030, Olympia, WA 98504-7030. To contact the proposers directly, email can be sent to renameharneychannel@gmail.com. Readers can obtain more information about the proposal at the petition website in the paragraph above.