‘Salish Coast’ chosen: Tribes wanted ‘Chetzemoka’ for new name of PT school

Patrick J. Sullivan psullivan@ptleader.com
Posted 3/14/17

Salish Coast has been chosen as the name for Port Townsend School District’s new elementary school slated to open in September 2018.

With representatives of the Jamestown S’Klallam, Lower …

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‘Salish Coast’ chosen: Tribes wanted ‘Chetzemoka’ for new name of PT school


Salish Coast has been chosen as the name for Port Townsend School District’s new elementary school slated to open in September 2018.

With representatives of the Jamestown S’Klallam, Lower Elwha Klallam and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes present – all advocating for the name Chetzemoka Elementary School – the school board March 13 voted 4-1 for the name Salish Coast Elementary School.

“The school is a building and it will be a nice building, but it’s not what’s important,” board member Keith White said about the difficulty in naming the school, compared to the need for quality education taking place inside.

The name Salish Coast was one of six finalists for the new school to replace Grant Street Elementary, which opened in the late 1950s and was named for the adjacent city street, which was named for 18th U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant.

There were a total of 131 names nominated, many with “Salish” in the name. A committee of school staff, parents and community members decided to add the name Salish Coast. The nominees were scored with the following ranking: Salish Sea 28 points, Salish Coast 27, Salish Trails 23, Chetzemoka 23 and Kah Tai 23. The school board then added a sixth finalist, Discovery.

The Salishan, or Salish, languages are a group of languages connected to tribes from British Columbia, Washington, and parts of Oregon, Idaho and Montana. The actual Salish tribe is the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation in northwestern Montana.

In 2009, the Washington State Board on Geographic Names approved Salish Sea as the collective name for the body of water that includes Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Georgia Strait. Washington State Ferries launched MV Chetzemoka in 2010, MV Salish in 2011 and MV Kennewick in 2012.


The audience members who spoke March 13 were in favor of naming the school Chetzemoka. In attendance were 13 people from the Jamestown S’Klallam, Lower Elwha Klallam and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes. The Port Gamble and Lower Elwha tribes expressly came in support of the Jamestown, including Frances G. Charles, chairwoman of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe; Jamie Valdez, the tribe’s cultural historian; and Laura Price, cultural resources specialist with the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. Plus, Katherine Baril, a retired educator living in Port Townsend, endorsed the selection as a way to embrace cultural diversity.

Elaine Grinnell, 80, of the Jamestown S’Klallam, is a tribal elder, historian and storyteller. Chetzemoka was her great-great-grandfather.

Chetzemoka (1808-1888) became S’Klallam chief shortly after white settlers arrived in Port Townsend in 1851. It was a visit to San Francisco in 1854 that may have convinced Chetzemoka that resistance against the whites was futile. He was a leader in signing the regional Treaty of Point No Point in 1855, intended to protect traditional fishing and hunting rights.

Chetzemoka is credited with easing tension between the two groups on several occasions in the 1850s and 1860s, including standing on a rock on the present-day site of the Port Townsend Golf Course and signaling to his white friends about tribal deliberations on whether or not to attack the local settlers. It is reported that on the 10th day of the deliberations, he signaled that the danger had passed. Chetzemoka’s actions in this regard further endeared him to the settlers.

Some people contend that Chetzemoka was wrong to give in to the whites. That’s not how S’Klallam leaders see it.

“Chetzemoka himself decided rather than fight, he wanted his people to live,” Grinnell said. “He didn’t want his people to get annihilated.”

To this day, the S’Klallams have never been defeated, she said. “We are still here, and we are here to share.”

Regardless of the school name choice, Grinnell urged the district’s inclusion of tribal education programs.


The board eventually voted 4-1 in favor of Salish Coast as the new name, with Connie Welch, Keith White, Jennifer James Wilson and Nathaniel O’Hara in support, and Laura Tucker opposed.

As soon as board members began talking, it became evident that Chetzemoka was probably not going to be their first choice.

Welch started off by saying the board is “not wanting to offend anybody.”

White said that, for him, the choice was either Chetzemoka or one of the Salish names. He talked about the symbolic nature of the Salish Sea and how it’s ever changing, like one’s educational growth.

James Wilson said Discovery was her initial preference, and then Kah Tai. She did not consider Chetzemoka an “automatic choice,” because the city park of that name is “our jewel in town” and already a meaningful place for people of all ages. Wilson also noted the “tension” reflected in two emails received from people opposing the name Chetzemoka. Grinnell countered from the audience that “we cannot avoid disputes” and in the end, this is S’Klallam territory and tribal leadership supported the name.

O’Hara said he is hesitant to name a school after any individual, while “everyone in our community” can identify with the Salish Sea. A curriculum that accurately reflects Native American culture is much more important than the name of a building, he noted. Chetzemoka and Kah Tai are already landmark parks in Port Townsend, O’Hara said. “I want the school’s name to be unique.”

Tucker said she has a “collective ancestral guilt” for what white settlers did to Native Americans, and it should be righted at every opportunity. A name that includes Salish, for example, would honor all the tribes that pass by each year in the Tribal Canoe Journey. Tucker also said that if the school is not named for Chetzemoka, there should be an effort to honor him specifically within the school.

During a discussion period following White’s motion for the name Salish Coast, with a second from Welch, Tucker asked why Salish Sea shouldn’t be considered, since Salish Coast is not a specific geographic area.

“I think we stand on the Salish coast every day,” O’Hara said.

The Lower Elwha’s Valdez noted that Coast Salish would be more culturally accurate. O’Hara said that was not an option open to vote.


By coincidence, between the public comment in support of the school change and the actual board discussion, Ann Healy-Raymond, director of instruction and technology for the PT school district, made a presentation on the “Time Immemorial” curriculum. Time Immemorial is a Native American history curriculum approved by the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. When the school board decided in 2013 to change the high school team nickname from Redskins – students in 2014 chose Redhawks – there was also a commitment to include more tribal history in regular classroom activities.

Healy-Raymond surveyed how Native American history is being incorporated in social studies instruction at all grade levels. Overall, it’s being handled well, she said, but there are some gaps, particularly when it comes to an emphasis on tribal sovereignty. She suggested a need to partner more with tribes, and more teachers need curriculum training.

That prompted Valdez, who had previously stated her role since 2005 as teaching a Klallam curriculum at Port Angeles High, to suggest the district look at their program.

It was also pointed out that in Healy-Raymond’s report, the name “Elwha” was misspelled.

“Our history hasn’t been taught from a tribal perspective,” Valdez noted.

“We’re not as connected as we could be, as we should be,” said O’Hara, school board chair.


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