Editor’s note: Below is an excerpt from a story written by Richard Arlin Walker. The full version can be found here: https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/cayou-channel-renaming-to-be-marked-with-blessing-celebration.
It took the U.S. Board on Geographic Names just nine days to approve the renaming of Harney Channel to Cayou Channel — blistering speed for a federal agency accustomed to taking testimony, reviewing documents, and deliberating.
“That’s unheard of,” said Ken Carrasco, lead proponent of changing the name of the waterway in the San Juan Islands of northwest Washington state, near the United States/Canada border.
“There was absolutely no negative feedback during the process,” Carrasco said. “The atmosphere, the feeling among the local population seemed to be that this was overdue, that it was something that really needed to happen.”
The name change was approved on July 5 by the Washington State Board on Geographic Names and on July 14 by the federal agency. It’s the second correction of an offensive or inappropriate name change in the San Juan Islands since 2017, when a bay that carried the name of an offensive slur often aimed at Indigenous women was renamed to Reef Net Bay, in recognition of an Indigenous fishing method that originated in the San Juan Islands.
On Oct. 2, a celebration will take place on water and land to celebrate the renaming of the channel in honor of Henry Cayou (1869-1959), a Coast Salish man who is still the only Indigenous person to serve on the county’s Board of County Commissioners. He was also a successful fisherman, a founder of the islands’ electrical utility, and a local postmaster and school board member. The channel formerly carried the name of a 19th-century U.S. Army general known for abusive and often deadly actions toward Black and Indigenous peoples.
A blessing on the water is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Oct. 2, and officials say canoes, kayaks, sail and power boats and other watercraft are welcome to join the blessing in the channel from the Orcas Landing/Bayhead Marina to West Sound. A community potluck is set for 2 p.m. at West Sound Community Hall.
Leadership San Juan Islands has reserved and paid for the hall rental in appreciation for “all that Rosie Cayou has contributed to our learning throughout the years of LSJI.” There is still help needed with housing/camping space on Orcas for off-island canoes and guests; snacks and beverages for after the water blessing; set up and clean up at the hall; potluck dishes and more. To be added to the team, contact Gretchen Krampf at 360-317-8220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.