Chetzemoka top contender for Port Townsend school name

Patrick J. Sullivan
Posted 2/28/17
Chetzemoka and Salish Sea emerged as the top recommendations for the Port Townsend School District’s choice in naming a new elementary school, a decision the school board is to make March …

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Chetzemoka top contender for Port Townsend school name


Chetzemoka and Salish Sea emerged as the top recommendations for the Port Townsend School District’s choice in naming a new elementary school, a decision the school board is to make March 13.

Three members of the public, along with three members of the Elementary School Naming Committee and two school administrators, attended a Feb. 27 meeting, during at which the finalists were discussed: Chetzemoka, Discovery, Kah Tai, Salish Point, Salish Sea and Salish Trails.

Kurt Grinnell, a Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Council member and a descendent of Chief Chetzemoka – leader of the S'Klallams when white settlers founded Port Townsend – said the council had discussed the choices. Its preference is Chetzemoka, and its second choice is Salish Sea.

“I think that Chetzemoka would be proud that his name was on the school,” Grinnell said.

School board member Laura Tucker asked Grinnell if Chetzemoka (T’chits-a-ma-hun) would be considered a role model, or had he been "coerced" to make peace with the white settlers in the 1850s and 1860s. Tucker expressed concern that the historic episode was not a good example of how the Europeans behaved.

Tribal Council chair W. Ron Allen’s way, to which Grinnell said he subscribes, is to look forward.

“I give the early settlers credit because there were more with good hearts than dark hearts,” Grinnell said. The tribe “could have been put to the sword” and instead, the people learned to live together.

“We’re glad we’re here, and it’s OK that other people are here, too," Grinnell said, acknowledging that there would have been no way to stop the settlers. “It could have gone a lot worse,” he said, and commended Chetzemoka’s decision to sign the Point No Point Treaty of 1855 and help keep the peace.

“The reason we’re still here is we had a good chief,” Grinnell said.

Also, it's the way in “Indian Country” to work for the benefit of all children, and “think seven generations down the road,” Grinnell noted.

Pam Stinson, a volunteer with both the Jefferson County Historical Society (JCHS) and Jefferson County Genealogical Society, spoke in favor of “Chetzemoka Elementary.” She said that JCHS had checked with Allen and the Jamestown S’Klallams. The JCHS board of trustees also voted unanimously in favor.

Speaking personally, Stinson said, “The name should be a person rather than a geographical reference,” and Chetzemoka has a strong local connection.

“A new school brings new beginnings,” Stinson said. “An historic name anchors the past with the future.”


Board member Jennifer James Wilson asked Grinnell about the tribe's connection to the word “Salish,” a term used by linguists to describe the peoples and languages of tribes in the Pacific Northwest. In 2009, the Washington State Board on Geographic Names approved the use of “Salish Sea” as the collective name for the body of water that includes Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Georgia Strait.

Grinnell said the Salish Sea is meaningful to all tribes because when short on money, they were rich on resources because “when the tide is out, the table is set.”

Nathaniel O'Hara, school board chair, asked why three variations of "Salish" were proposed. Lisa Condran, Grant Street principal who chaired the district's naming committee, explained that many name variations using Salish were suggested. The committee came up with “Salish Coast” after applying the selection process criteria. Port Townsend is centrally located in the Salish Sea, Condran noted.

Salish is a “connecting word,” noted Ann Raymond, committee member and the district's director of instruction and technology.

It was reported that Jess Winsheimer, committee member and Grant Street Elementary secretary, said any name must pass the “phone test” of having to say it 100 times a day, and Salish Coast was a better fit than Salish Sea.

The committee found only one existing school with a Salish name: the Salish School of Spokane, which has a goal to preserve "Interior Salish" languages.


The name Discovery did not make the committee’s final cut; it was added by the school board. It’s not a unique name – there are many schools statewide and nationwide with some version of the name Discovery, Condran noted.

Melody Skye Eisler, the city's public library director and a committee member, said Salish and Discovery were the ones people most mentioned to her at the library. Discovery was the name of British Royal Navy Capt. George Vancouver’s ship that explored these waters in 1792, so it does have “ties to the colonial past," she noted.

Raymond said Discovery simply didn’t score well based on the rating criteria. "The criteria really enabled us to get away from personal favorites," Raymond noted.

The new school's physical address would not be on Discovery Road, as Condran had previously indicated.

The name Kah Tai has strong local connections, but is also widely remembered as the name of a Port Townsend nursing home, Condran noted. No other schools with the name Kah Tai could be found.

Unlike the district's most recent school-naming propositions, when students made the final choice of Blue Heron (chosen over the name Chetzemoka) and Mountain View, the school board is slated to make this decision. O’Hara welcomed the public to email the district office or contact individual board members before March 13.

Email Mary Colton, the superintendent's administrative assistant, at


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