Washington State Board of National Resources Approves Naming San Juan County Channel for Indigenous Businessman and Politician

Additional proposals name small San Juan island and Snohomish County marsh, correct spelling for Thurston County hill

Henry Cayou’s house.
Henry Cayou’s house. Photo courtesy: Orcas Island Historical Museum

The Washington State Board of Natural Resources approved four naming proposals, including the renaming of a San Juan County waterway for an Indigenous businessman and local politician, during its meeting Tuesday morning.

The Board of Natural Resources, acting as the Washington State Board on Geographic Names, approved the renaming of the San Juan waterway, the naming of an unnamed island in the San Juans, the naming of an unnamed Snohomish County marsh, and a spelling correction for a hill in Thurston County.

The Washington State Committee on Geographic Names gave final approval to the four proposals during its April 26 meeting.

San Juan County

Cayou Channel, named for local fisher Henry Cayou, is the new name for the waterway between Shaw and Orcas islands previously called Harney Channel. Cayou, who served as a San Juan Island County Commissioner for 29 years at the turn of the 20th century, was a successful commercial fisher who lived and worked in the San Juan Islands until his death in 1959. He was one of the first Indigenous elected officials in Washington state.

The naming of Cayou Channel is the result of a substantial community organizing effort from San Juan County residents.

Gen. William Harney, for whom the channel was previously named, is best known for nearly starting the San Juan Islands “Pig War” between the United States and England in 1859. Harney killed an enslaved Black woman in 1834 and commanded the killing of Indigenous women and children during the 1855 Battle of Ash Hollow in present-day Nebraska, among other ignominious acts.

Basket Island is the new name of a previously unnamed small island in San Juan County. The name echoes that of nearby Picnic Island, as the two islands are connected at low tide.

Snohomish County

Holland Marsh is the new name for a previously unnamed marsh about four miles west of Granite Falls. The 8-acre wetland is named for Andy Holland, a longtime forestry professor at Everett Community College who died in 2008 at age 97.

Thurston County

Chaenn Hill corrects the spelling of a high point just north of Tenino that previously bore the name Chain Hill. The hill is named after Charles Chaenn, a local landowner who passed away in 1910. In 2018, the Tenino city historian found evidence that Chaenn’s name had been misspelled.

The approved names will be added to the Washington Administrative Code, and the Board now passes them along to the United States Board on Geographic Names for federal review.

Detailed information on all initial and final proposals, including maps, historical information, and supporting documentation can be found on the Board of Natural Resources page under the About tab on the DNR website. Information on the policies and procedures of the committee can be found in the same location.

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