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WA renames San Juan Islands waterway to honor Indigenous leader

A Washington state ferry crosses Cayou Channel (previously Harney Channel) between Shaw and Orcas islands. The waterway has officially been renamed to honor one of Washington’s first Indigenous elected officials.  (Courtesy of Ken Carrasco)
A Washington state ferry crosses Cayou Channel (previously Harney Channel) between Shaw and Orcas islands. The waterway has officially been renamed to honor one of Washington’s first Indigenous elected officials. (Courtesy of Ken Carrasco)
By Amanda Zhou Seattle Times

A waterway in the San Juan Islands has officially been renamed to honor one of Washington’s first Indigenous elected officials.

The little-known strait of water – about a half-mile wide and 2 miles long between Orcas and Shaw islands – is now named Cayou Channel.

Previously, the channel was named Harney Channel, after Gen. William Harney, who almost started the “Pig War” and was also responsible for the slaying of Indigenous people and an enslaved woman.

Now, the channel honors Henry Cayou, who was an Orcas Island county commissioner for 29 years. Cayou was a commercial fisherman and lived his entire life on Orcas Island, from 1869 to 1959.

While the name change is officially part of the Washington Administrative Code, the federal U.S. Board on Geographic Names will also review the change, said Washington State Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Kenny Ocker.

Orcas Island resident Ken Carrasco and Shaw Island resident Stephanie Buffum spearheaded the effort to rename the channel. An online petition in support of the name change has garnered over 1,100 signatures.

“We have a unique opportunity to reset the historical record and elevate the names that were nation builders not national dividers,” Buffum said. “We are hopeful that federal decision-makers will follow Washington’s lead.”

Sara Palmer, the chair of the Committee on Geographic Names, described the change as “our big ticket item” in a presentation to the Board of Natural Resources. “There’s tremendous popular support. That’s one people are pretty excited about.”

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