Though it’ll be a few years before it plies the waters of Puget Sound, the state’s new ferry has a name: Wishkah.
The Washington State Transportation Commission pulled the name from a field of six finalists and signed off on the new title – a reference to the Wishkah Native American people and the Wishkah River, which feeds into Grays Harbor – Tuesday afternoon.
Of about 5,800 surveys completed through the Ferry Riders Opinion Group, the name had a mean rank of No. 1, according to commission staff. Preferences submitted by ferry advisory committee members had the name ranked No. 2, and emails from the public had Wishkah ranked No. 3.
Other names up for consideration were Stillaguamish, Snoqualmie, Stehekin, Enie Marie and Muckleshoot.
Commissioner Debbie Young, of San Juan County, said the name was “multi-faceted:” “It’s a Native American word, so it represents early history from our state. There was also a steamer (Wishkah Chief), which was a ferry carrying passengers back and forth across the Wishkah River in the very early logging history of the state in that region. It’s a low-gradient river that flows into a tidal estuary. It’s valuable habitat for fish and shellfish and birds, reminding us of the importance to protect and restore our natural environment here in the state.”
“Wishkah” was advanced by Tumwater’s Robin McPherson, who wrote in a proposal that the origin of the name is said to be “hwish-kahl,” a Chehalis language word meaning “stinking water:” “If the air around the Wishkah River is strong, it may be due to its ecology: this is estuarine wetland, with brackish swamps and long stretches of mud exposed at low tide. The Wishkah is valuable habitat for shellfish, birds, and fish. Over time, the Wishkah has supported vibrant human communities as well. From the earliest days of the Lower Chehalis people to the heyday of boomtown Aberdeen, and through all the ups and downs since, the Wishkah has been a vital link between forest and sea that anchors the community.”
The Wishkah people faced a tragic demise, McPherson wrote, noting that, “The Chehalis Indians refused a treaty with Governor Isaac Stevens (Washington’s first territorial governor), and within a matter of years were reduced to a small and dispersed population. Eventually the surviving descendants of the Wishkah people (like their neighbors the Hoquiam, Humptulips, Wynoochee and Satsop) – were left to assimilate into white communities – often suffering from prejudice because of their ethnicity. Some settled on the distant Chehalis and Quinault reservations. While their stories live on in some traditions, we are left without nearly enough to remember them by.”
Commissioners went on to vote unanimously in favor of the name Tuesday.
Washington State Ferries said the new hybrid-electric, Olympic-class vessel – now to be officially titled “Wishkah” – is expected to enter service in 2025.
Nathan Pilling is a reporter covering Bainbridge Island, North Kitsap and Washington State Ferries for the Kitsap Sun. He can be reached at 360-792-5242, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @KSNatePilling.
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