A state senator and others have teamed up to begin getting those names changed.
OLYMPIA — Washington state remains dotted with racially offensive place names. Glance at a map and in any part of the state, and one might see landmarks such as Negro Creek, Squaw Lake, Redman Slough and Coon Creek.
Now, Sen. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, and officials at the state Department of Resources (DNR) have teamed up to begin petitioning to change the names.
Jayapal helped with an effort that last year persuaded the federal government to change the name of Coon Lake in Chelan County to Howard Lake, after an African-American prospector.
“As I was going through that, I was like wow, this is crazy,” said Jayapal. “I wonder how many other names there are.”
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Turns out, there are at least 48, according to a map she and DNR staff have compiled.
First up for a proposed change will be Coon Creek in King County. Then other names around the state containing the word “coon,” “squaw” and “Jim Crow” will be targeted.
To change a name, an application must be submitted to the Committee on Geographic Names, which is under the purview of DNR. Once it gets initial approval, the petitioner can seek public support for a name change, according to Kyle Blum, a deputy supervisor at DNR.
Then, the committee must vote to recommend the change, which goes to the Board on Geographic Names for approval.
While there are likely more racially offensive names out there, “we picked ones that really were truly offensive and have a context and a history,” Jayapal said, adding later: “We didn’t go with things that were dubious, on the line.”
What makes this effort unique is that it will include public meetings across the state for residents to learn about the racially offensive names, according to Blum.
“We’ve never done anything like before,” Blum said, “so I have no idea how this is going to go.”
Officials are hoping to schedule the first meeting in King County, hopefully for April, he said.
Removing the names is only a step toward easing the nation’s burden of racial prejudice.
The epithets will still exist in all the maps created up until now, said Mike Iyall, a Cowlitz Indian Tribe Council member.
“As long as the print exists, they’ll still be there,” said Iyall, also a member of the Committee on Geographic Names. “But I also think it is a place to start.”