The Naming of the Salish Sea ~ Dr. Bert Webber

Dr Bert Webber - courtesy  Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

The Salish Sea has been formally named...TWICE. Initially by First Nations and Tribal governments in 2007 and then by the US and Canada in late 2009 and early 2010.

Formal naming of a geographical feature is a privilege reserved for the governments of sovereign nations. The geographical area of the Salish Sea includes a large number of sovereign nations, including more than 70 Tribal and First Nations governments. The bulk of the 8 million people living in the geographical area of the Salish Sea are in the south, under US jurisdiction, and the northern jurisdiction is primarily in Canada. As sovereign nations, Tribal and First Nation governments maintained the authority to formally name the Salish Sea.

The formal naming process by Indigenous governments began in January of 2007 at the Quw’utsun’ Conference Center on Cowichan First Nation territory in BC. Leaders of many of the First Nations and Tribes met together to express their support for the restoration and protection of the natural values of the Salish Sea. Each government leader signed a deer hide that beautifully depicted an artistic rendition of a map of the Salish Sea, thereby realizing the formal commitment to the Salish Sea name.

Stephen Point, an elder of the Solo Nation, 2007
Stephen Point, elder of the Stó:lō First Nation

Stephen Point, an elder of the Stó:lō Nation, also signed the deer hide. Later that year, Stephen was appointed the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, a position he held until 2012.

Not all Coast Salish Tribal governments were able to attend the January gathering, but later, in the summer of that year, a second opportunity to sign was offered at the Tulalip  Tribal Reservation in the Puget Sound region of Washington.

By the summer of 2007, most Salish Sea First Nation governments had signed the deer hide, and officially adopted the Salish Sea name.

At this time, the governments of Canada and the United States had not yet participated in the formal naming of the Salish Sea; very little publicity outside of First Nations efforts had been generated, and the naming was not widely reported outside of Indian Country. In 2008, George Harris, a brother of Ray Harris who was a signee, approached the BC government with the idea of renaming the Georgia Strait the Salish Sea.

There was initial support and interest by the BC Department of Aboriginal Affairs. However, the news of the proposed change resulted in intense criticism of numerous “King George loyalists” in the Vancouver area and included opposition from the Monarchist League of Canada. George Harris’s idea soon evaporated and ultimately disappeared. However, the winds of change were blowing, and in late 2009 - early 2010 both Canada and the US agreed to formally adopt the name Salish Sea as an umbrella name for the Strait of Georgia, the Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. 

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