The 2-mile-long ridge about 8 miles west of Pateros could be renamed Swaram Creek Ridge for the creek that runs below it if a state board backs a name change approved recently by the Washington State Committee on Geographic Names.
The creek had been known as Squaw Creek, considered a derogatory term for Indigenous women, but it was renamed Swaram Creek in 2017 after a proposal from a Methow tribal elder from the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.
The proposal to rename the ridge Swaram Creek Ridge was submitted last year by Elaine Timentwa Emerson, a respected tribal elder, native speaker and instructor of Methow descent.
The Colville Business Council voted unanimously in favor of the name change for the ridge, which is located in the traditional area of the Methow Tribe. When the proposal to rename the creek was submitted, Timentwa Emerson explained that swar’am means “torch fishing,” which describes a rite of passage.
Last year, the committee considered renaming 18 features across the state, all of which used the term “squaw,” after the U.S. Department of the Interior recommended changing derogatory place names across the country. At the time, Mazama resident Austin Smith proposed renaming the ridge Black Canyon Ridge for nearby Black Canyon Creek. The committee voted to defer initial consideration of Smith’s proposal because the Yakama Nation had also submitted a proposal, according to the committee’s executive secretary.
Eight of the 18 features that still bear derogatory names are within the traditional territories of the Colville Tribes, according to the tribes’ proposal. In addition to the ridge, two other instances of the derogatory term remain in Okanogan County. The Colville Tribes have proposed renaming Squaw Mountain, on the Colville Reservation, as Condon Mountain, for a well-known tribal family and nearby spring. There is another Squaw Creek on the reservation that they proposed to rename West Fork Frosty Creek.
The county road south of Methow that used to be called Squaw Creek Road was renamed Hunter Mountain Road in 2017. Almost all residents and property owners on the road signed the petition to Okanogan County, which has jurisdiction over county road names.
The committee will submit its recommendations to the state Board of Natural Resources (in its role as the Washington State Board on Geographic Names), which will probably review the proposal at its June 6 meeting.
If the board approves the recommendation, the names go to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names for review, which changes them on all officials maps. The state board will also submit an alternate proposal from the Yakama Nation to the federal board to rename the ridge Mokheil, the Yakamas’ traditional name for the ridge.
The U.S. board approved the change to Swaram Creek in 2018.
People can comment on the proposal to firstname.lastname@example.org, or at the June meeting. To testify at the meeting, register via a link on this page: https://www.dnr.wa.gov/about/boards-and-councils/board-natural-resources.