Last spring, the suggestion by a Chemainus First Nation leader to change the name of the Strait of Georgia to the Salish Sea made a splash in the media.
Minister of Aboriginal Relations Mike de Jong liked the sound of it, according to one news report, and he pledged to pitch the proposal to the cabinet. Not much has been heard since then from Victoria about this matter. But it doesn’t mean that the idea of having the Salish Sea as an official name is dead in the water.
On May 15, the Washington State Board on Geographic Names will decide whether to accept for consideration an application by marine biologist Bert Webber for the Salish Sea to be adopted as the collective name for the Strait of Georgia, Juan de Fuca Strait, and Puget Sound.
Webber, a retired Western Washington University professor of environmental and marine science, has also made a similar application before the B.C. Geographical Names Office.
The three bodies of water will retain their respective names, according to the applications, and the “estuarine inland sea” that they form together will be called the Salish Sea.
“If you look at their oceanographic properties, it’s clear that they are a single functional unit,” Webber told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview from his home in Bellingham, Washington. “In order to understand that single functional unit, my argument is that it needs to be named.”
He added that the Salish Sea name also recognizes the aboriginal communities that have historically inhabited the coasts of this inland sea that stretches from the northern end of the Strait of Georgia in British Columbia to the southern end of Puget Sound in Olympia, Washington. The state of Washington and B.C. share the waters of Juan de Fuca Strait.
“In general, the Salish Sea is the area occupied by the coast and straits Salish tribes,” stated the B.C. application filed by Webber, a UBC–educated marine biologist who was actually born in New Westminster. “It is compelling that the name Salish Sea should acknowledge this.”
Salish Sea is already a widely accepted name. The three-day 2009 Puget Sound Georgia Basin Ecosystem Conference held in Seattle last February had this for its theme: “The Future of the Salish Sea: A Call to Action!”. Among the conference’s sponsors were Environment Canada and the regional body Metro Vancouver.
Salish Sea: A Handbook for Educators was a joint project of Parks Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the B.C. government. Published in 2001, the resource material states that the Salish Sea includes the Strait of Georgia, Juan de Fuca Strait, and Puget Sound.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes that the “Puget Sound and Georgia Basin is composed of Puget Sound and the straits of Juan de Fuca, Georgia, Rosario, and Haro and the lands and rivers that drain into these coastal waters”.
“Before renamed by western European explorers, these inland fjords, straits, and estuaries together were known by Tribal and First Nations peoples as the Salish Sea,” the American agency states on its Web site.
Aboriginal representatives from B.C. and Washington meet yearly in what is known as the Coast Salish Gathering to discuss environmental concerns in the shared region.
“People who are responsible for the biological resources and water quality recognize that they can’t really manage just part of this unit, that in order to be fully responsible for managing the resources and the water quality, they need to look at the total unit, and that has been going on,” Webber said.
It’s Webber’s second attempt to get the Washington State Board on Geographic Names to have the Salish Sea name adopted, and his first here in B.C.
Caleb Maki is the state board’s administrative assistant. He told the Straight that there was so much opposition to Webber’s first application, filed in 1989, that the board decided not to even hear it.
The panel’s jurisdiction applies only to Puget Sound and half of Juan de Fuca Strait, Maki said. He added that a B.C. representative has expressed interest in attending the May 15 board meeting.
It was Native leader George Harris who suggested to de Jong the Salish Sea name change during a meeting in March last year.
Harris, the treaty adviser of Vancouver Island’s Chemainus First Nation, told the Straight that he agrees with Webber’s proposal to have the Salish Sea as the collective name for the three bodies of water.
“It’s important for us as a people to have that as a name,” he said. “That’s who we are as a people.”