Coming soon? “Kilisut Passage”

Various derogatory or incorrect place names have been officially replaced, in the most recent meeting of the Washington State Committee on Geographic Names.

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(Image credit: Leader)

An article in the Port Townsend (WA) Leader, headlined “State Committee OKs Renaming Proposals“, details the amended names.

One proposed change, not yet decided on, is of particular interest for you readers of my site —

The committee deferred consideration, however, of two naming proposals for a passage between Marrowstone Island and Indian Island to allow additional community discussion. 

One proposal, Kilisut Passage, is drawn from Chinook Jargon, while a second proposal, the Clallam word for “a passage through,” was provided by the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe. This is a traditional place name for the passage, which was a significant travel route for S’Klallam and Chemacum peoples in the 18th and 19th centuries before being blocked by a causeway for approximately 100 years. 

The passage was reopened in 2019, reconnecting Kilisut Harbor with Oak Bay to its south.

Committee officials noted that each geographic name-change proposal is reviewed twice, allowing for public comment and tribal consultation. Following these discussions, the committee decides whether to recommend that the Board of Natural Resources approve a name proposal.

One source among those involved in the state board’s deliberations over this place name claims that Kilisut means ‘protected waters’. This is unprovable, and in fact it’s wrong.

Another source in the same document rightly notes that Kilisut is not from the local Klallam Salish language, and is effectively lacking any connection with local Indigenous culture. The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe lobbies for its traditional name for the location, scɬéqʷ ‘the passage through’.

I can confirm that Kilisut is old Chinuk Wawa, from the earliest decades of the language’s known use. The name was bestowed by the “U.S.Ex.Ex.”, the Wilkes Expedition, in 1841, according to Washington history expert Edmond Meany. That expedition created a large number of new place names using its knowledge of CW freshly acquired from the Columbia River region to the south, where the language was in actual use — it was essentially unknown in northern Puget Sound at the time.

Kilisut is a word for ‘flint’ and ‘glass’, even for ‘bottle’ in certain very old sources. Thus it’s an Indigenous (Chinookan) word brought into Chinook Jargon use before the Métis/Canadian French la bouteille took over in the Fort Vancouver era.

George Gibbs knew this, and noted it in his excellent 1863 dictionary of the Jargon, where it’s spelled kil-it’-sut and compared with a Lower Chinookan word.

The kil-it-sut spelling shows up in FN Blanchet’s dictionary as well, without the ‘bottle’ meaning. .

An especially early occurrence of the word is in Demers-Blanchet-St Onge’s 1871 dictionary, which I tend to take as late 1830s data: kelkicho ‘bottle’.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?