I end my piece on Lushootseed-language place names in Seattle, “Native names abide,” thus:
…Let Carkeek remain Carkeek, but know that it was once and is still kʷaatəb, as Montlake is still stəx̌ʷugʷił, the Locks, which lowered x̌ačuʔ and x̌áx̌əʔčuʔ, still xʷiwálqʷ, and University Village still sluʔwił village, and celebrate that wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ now sits where Whitman and Stevens meet.
wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House is “a longhouse-style facility on the [University of Washington] Seattle campus [that] provides a multi-service learning and gathering space for American Indian and Alaska Native students, faculty and staff, as well as others from various cultures and communities to come together in a welcoming environment to share knowledge.” Its location at the corner of Stevens Way and Whitman Court is significant in that almost all campus roads are named for Washington counties, and these two counties were named after Isaac Stevens and Marcus and Narcissa Whitman:
- As noted in “Should Seattle rename its streets?” Stevens, governor of Washington Territory, “forced Native American tribes to cede their lands to the federal government.… He also pardoned himself for contempt charges relating to unjust declaration of martial law during the Yakima War, and insisted on the capture of the subsequently executed Chief Leschi of the Nisqually Tribe, even though at that point he had ceased fighting and fled the area.
- The Whitmans’ story is more complex. The missionary couple were among 13 whites killed by a group of Cayuse Indians in what has become known as the Whitman massacre. A measles epidemic in the mission settlement and a nearby Cayuse village produced a death rate far higher among the Cayuse; Marcus Whitman, who was a also a physician and tried to treat the Cayuse as well as the whites, was accused of poisoning tribe members: “the fact that nearly all of his white patients recovered while his Indian patients died convinced some Cayuses that he was deliberately poisoning Indians in order to give their land to white setters.” Even though this is unlikely, the fact remains that they were missionaries and colonizers, and there have been calls to replace the statue of Marcus that stands in the National Statuary hall.
Now the University of Washington has renamed Whitman Court sluʔwiɫ, after a village that once stood where University Village is today. (sluʔwiɫ means ‘Little Canoe Channel’ in the Lushootseed language.)
The UW Board of Regents made this change in May 2018, but the sign only recently made its appearance. I asked the writer of the University of Washington Magazine piece on the name change, Hannelore Sudermann, if she knew whether “the renaming was official — that Whitman Court no longer exists and the street’s name is now sluʔwiɫ – or if it was honorary and the street is still officially Whitman Court,” and she pointed me to the meeting minutes, which read, in part:
The Board of Regents chooses to honor the Coast Salish peoples of the land on which the University of Washington sits, and indigenous peoples across the State, by renaming Whitman Court sluʔwił.… In the Lushootseed language of the Coast Salish peoples, sluʔwił is the name for the village site closest to the campus, and means ‘Little Canoe Channel.’… It is the Board’s intention to recognize the native place-names of the region and thereby to enrich the historical context of the campus. The Board feels that this naming action is particularly appropriate, given the proximity of Whitman Court to wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ, meaning ‘Intellectual House,’ a multi-service learning and gathering space for American Indian and Alaska Native students, faculty, and staff.
Even though an earlier part of the minutes reads “Regent Rice moved, Regent Ayer seconded, and the Board of Regents approved the honorific renaming of Whitman Court sluʔwił” (italics mine), given the excerpt above and the presence of the sign without any reference to Whitman Court, my interpretation is that honorific here means “in honor of,” in contrast to honorary meaning “symbolic.”
Update as of February 16, 2023: I recently noticed that sluʔwiɫ is appearing on maps (UW, OpenStreetMap) as sluʔwiɫ (Little Canoe Channel NE). Per the UW’s page on McMahon Hall, “Whitman Court NE has been renamed Sluʔwił (Little Canoe Channel NE). Although street signs have changed, you may hear the street referred to by both names as the name change awaits formal state recognition. The name change acknowledges the Duwamish Peoples who continue to fight for federal recognition as a tribe, and who lived and engaged in potlaches, gift-giving festivals of sharing and trading, in the area, until the land was colonized by white settlers.” I will try to find out when and how formal state recognition will come.
Born and raised in Seattle, Benjamin Donguk Lukoff had his interest in local history kindled at the age of six, when his father bought him settler granddaughter Sophie Frye Bass’s Pig-Tail Days in Old Seattle at the gift shop of the Museum of History and Industry. He studied English, Russian, and linguistics at the University of Washington, and went on to earn his master’s in English linguistics from University College London. His book of rephotography, Seattle Then and Now, was published in 2010. An updated version came out in 2015.