British Columbia

Salish Sea could unite West Coast waters under single name

West Coast mariners could soon be sailing on the Salish Sea if a proposal by a Washington state marine biologist goes ahead.

West Coast mariners could soon be sailing on the Salish Sea if a proposal by a Washington state marine biologist goes ahead.

The connected waters of Puget Sound near Seattle, the Georgia Strait near Vancouver and the Strait of Juan de Fuca near Victoria would collectively be called the Salish Sea, under the proposal, while the old names would remain in use for the individual waterways.

The idea was introduced by Bert Webber, a retired Western Washington University professor of environmental and marine science. Washington's Board of Geographic Names will spend the next six months consulting area residents, First Nations and the B.C. government.

Webber has also reportedly filed an application with Canadian authorities asking them to consider the new name. Both B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Mike de Jong said they're intrigued by the idea and authorities here are considering it.

Webber said he proposed the name in order to highlight the connected nature of the marine eco-system, and remind people in Washington and British Columbia that cross-border approaches are needed when dealing with salmon, pollution, water quality and other marine issues.

Native supporters

The word Salish come from the name Coast Salish, the name anthropologists gave to the First Nations language group that resides in the area.

Webber first proposed the name in 1988, but the proposal was soundly rejected at the time. In recent years, the term has caught on with local First Nations leaders and marine biologists, who have started using it to describe the large area of inland waters south and east of Vancouver Island on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

Last year, a Vancouver Island First Nation leader suggested Salish Sea be used to replace the name of the Georgia Strait, which separates Vancouver Island from the South Coast of B.C.

Webber's expanded designation caught the interest of Chemainus elder George Harris, who said the new name reflects the borderless nature of the area's original First Nations.

"When we meet as the Coast Salish family, the things that tie us together and make us proud of who we are, are things like this," said Harris.

Harris thinks the name has a much better chance of being officially adopted this time.

"I think the mood has changed quite a bit from 1990 and I think people are much more accepting of us as indigenous people and who we are in our homeland and traditional territories."