Páatstel is the native name for a village, and what became Squaw Creek

WHATCOM — The Washington State Committee on Geographic Names is considering a change of name for a creek in north Whatcom County.

Squaw Creek is a tributary of Johnson Creek, which joins Sumas Creek at Sumas, with flow northward into Canada and the Fraser River. Squaw Creek, about 4.3 miles long, generally starts in the Pangborn Lake area.

The proposal from the Nooksack Tribe, and supported by Whatcom County Council member Carol Frazey, is to change Squaw Creek to Páatstel Creek. 

The name Páatstel refers to a native village where Nooksacks resided, located somewhere north of the Jobe cemeteries on Northwood Road in east Lynden and today’s East Badger Road, according to information in the application to the state.

The Nooksacks called the creek north of the village Páatstel, as recorded in the 2008 book “Nooksack Place Names: Geography, Culture and Language,” by Allen Richardson and Brent Galloway. This book, in turn, relies upon notes taken by Paul Fetzer in 1950 interviews with Nooksack elders and their verbal testimony from family knowledge and first-hand history of the Nooksack people. 

The name change request comes from George Swanaset Jr., cultural and natural resources director for the Deming-based tribe, and tribal council chair Ross Cline Sr., along with County Council member Frazey.

This is an application excerpt: “Beside the fact that the name ‘squaw’ is offensive, the proper historical name is important to be used as recognition to the first people of this territory, the Nooksacks.”

At its meeting in Olympia on May 30, the committee moved forward this proposal, along with others, for final consideration. But as this committe meets only twice per year, the next meeting will be in October.

The proposal is open for public comment until then, said Department of Natural Resources spokesman Kenny Ocker.

Anyone who wishes to comment on the proposal can email bogn@dnr.wa.gov or send a letter to the Washington State Committee on Geographic Names, P.O. Box 47030, Olympia, WA 98504. All comments are public record.

This is the process, according to a news release: Names approved by the all-volunteer committee are forwarded to the Board of Natural Resources (acting as the Washington State Board on Geographic Names) for final decision. Names approved by the board are published in the Washington Administrative Code and forwarded to the United States Board on Geographic Names for federal consideration along with the state’s recommendations.

The committee includes representatives of Washington State tribes, the state librarian, and the director of the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, a Washington state tribal representative, and three members from the public appointed by Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Hilary Franz.