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Effort underway to change name of Soap Lake

Would change to 'Lake Smokiam'

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Posted: Thursday, March 1, 2012 9:05 am

SOAP LAKE - Soap Lake's name may change to Lake Smokiam in an effort to bridge relations with Native Americans.

A state committee is considering whether to reinstate the original name.

Under the proposal the City of Soap Lake would keep its current title while the lake itself would include Smokiam, a Salish Mid-Columbian term translating to "healing waters."

Soap Lake resident Bonnie Holt-Morehouse and Moses Lake historian and author Robert Ruby are leading the charge to change the name.

Ruby has written numerous books on Native American culture since the early 1950s, when he was a surgeon on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He said the name change came from a discussion between he and Holt-Morehouse, who is a fan of his work.

For 11,000 years the people, of what is now known as the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, utilized the body of water as an important gathering place and a place of traditional healing, according to Ruby and other historians.

The name change came sometime in the 19th century when European settlers started to outnumber native tribal members and, in a nod to the lake's frothy waters, dubbed it Soap Lake, according to the US Board of Geographic Names.

Ruby and Holt-Morehouse list several reasons why they believe the lake's original title should be reinstated, chief among them being the potential benefit to relations between native people and current residents.

The change would offer an opportunity for education on the history of the site for natives and non-natives alike, Ruby said, and would "demonstrate the good faith of non-Indians today for Indian people and their values and history."

He points to recent federal legislation requiring the return of native cultural elements and artifacts to the tribes they were taken from, and asserts names can fit into this category.

"Tribes across America are taking steps to rename important landmarks, the names of which were either lost or changed through settlement and federal policies," he stated.

Any Washington resident can propose a new geographical name, resolution for a controversial name, correction of an established name or a name change by submitting an application to the Washington State Committee on Geographic Names.

The process can take up to a year from start to finish, but seems to be moving along quickly in the case of Soap Lake.

The Geographic Names Committee held an initial hearing in November and scheduled a final hearing in Olympia on May 18.

If the committee accepts the name change the proposal will be forwarded with a recommendation for approval to the Washington State Board on Geographic Names, which oversees the official establishment of names throughout the state.

The committee is now in the process of soliciting opinions and comments from historical societies, county officials, federal agencies, local clubs and any other group or person who can provide information on the proposal, according to information provided by the Geographic Names Committee.

"So far we've gotten a lot of support," Ruby said.

Soap Lake Mayor Raymond Gravelle said the primary reason he's onboard with the idea is that the change would show respect to Native Americans.

"They were there first," he said. "It would be appropriate to return the lake to its former name."

Gravelle noted the name change is a logical next step in the process of improving relations with members of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, who were included in an unveiling of the "Calling the Healing Waters" sundial erected on the shore of Soap Lake in 2009.

Colville Tribal Business Council chair Michael Finley stated enthusiastic support for the name change in a letter to the Geographic Names Committee.

"We applaud the efforts of the citizens of Soap Lake, especially Mrs. Morehouse and Dr. Robert Ruby for proposing this name change," he wrote. "It demonstrates their dedication to bridging the gap between the native and Anglo communities."

Finley went on to explain that "Lake Smokiam" is located in the traditional homeland of the Moses Columbia people, a constituent tribe of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

"This region was and continues to be significant to native people due to the abundant food resources and traditional cultural sites, such as the lake itself," he stated. "Our people have lived in this area and utilized its resources from time immemorial and continue to use the same resources today."

In their own letter to the Geographical Names Committee, Ruby and Holt-Morehouse request any future geographic publication of maps list the lake under its native name.

"It is our purpose to restore honor to the body of water," they state. "It's existence has been significant to the health of humans and animals since the beginning of time. It earned the name Lake Smokiam, 'healing waters,' long ago."

  • Discuss

Welcome to the discussion.


  • Chief Hard to be Mean posted at 5:17 pm on Mon, Apr 2, 2012.

    Chief Hard to be Mean Posts: 1

    I totally support this healing effort, the landscape needs to here it's Creator/Maker given name. Will continue to pray for those that are in the dark, and know the Creator will lead them into the light of blessings and healings. I know it's difficult to understand what, and why the name needs to be restored, it may just be an indian thing, and you don't understand. However, I know through communication(prayer) even the most racist, hateful, bitter, resentful person could be led to understand.
    It's not about 'giving' the indians anything, it's not about corporations, not about natural selection, who conquered who it's about the healing. I had to 'chuckle' a bit when I read the truth, wild bill and eaglefan,
    why is it those who move here want to change things, that's exactly what happened when the intruders got here, and the beat goes on

  • michaeljamsweaver posted at 7:28 pm on Sun, Mar 11, 2012.

    michaeljamsweaver Posts: 1

    well, if it were an attempt to restore historical importance to an acient lake in the lower grand coulee that would be one thing. but im not so sure thats whats really happening. a local governing body is not going to relinquish control of any kind of proporty unless there is revenue potential. something smells "fishy" to me and it cant be the fish in soap lake because there isnt any...mabey im smelling the rancid corporate income of a casino. how are the local people going to benifit from this? will they be rewarded with a fence around the lake and and have to pay fees to go somewhere they were born because the lake is being privatized by conglomerates trying to turn a buck? well see...

  • Bustyn posted at 11:33 am on Thu, Mar 8, 2012.

    Bustyn Posts: 302

    @Heathen, what took place between the Europeans and the Indians is no different that what has taken place since the dawn of history. Strong and/or more technologically advanced groups often invade and conquer weaker, less advanced groups. Stronger Indian tribes often pillaged, plundered and conquered weaker neighboring tribes, enslaving those they conquered and taking their land and possessions. Unfortunately for the Indians, they failed to progress as rapidly (technologically speaking) as their European counterparts. It was inevitable that they would be eventually conquered, and their people either killed, enslaved, or assimilated into the conqueror's culture.

    In nature we call this natural selection. Just as Darwin predicted.

    I do not agree with the way that treaties were bartered and broken. However I dare say that the Indians could have fared far worse if they had been conquered by other countries. How many other countries offer the people they have conquered the option of having their own "sovereign nation" status, all the while enjoying the benefits, privileges and protection of the conquering country? Do the indigenous Australians enjoy this status? Any indigenous Amazonian tribes? African tribes?

  • EagleFan81 posted at 11:27 pm on Tue, Mar 6, 2012.

    EagleFan81 Posts: 2

    The only effort to change the name is by the three people mentioned. All of whom have only lived here a short time, or do not live here at all.
    Why is it that people that are not from our community or have moved here late in life, want to come here and change everything about it? Work to make Soap Lake a better place to live, not a different place to live.
    The City of Moses Lake is on Moses Lake, the City of Chelan is on Lake Chelan, the City of Osoyoos is on Lake Osoyoos and the City of Soap Lake is on SOAP LAKE!!!
    The people of SOAP LAKE need to speak out against trying to take our lake away from us! Lose the name of the lake and we lose our community.
    Make sure the Geographic Names Committee knows on May 18 that we don't want the name of our lake changed.

  • Heathen posted at 6:37 am on Mon, Mar 5, 2012.

    Heathen Posts: 854

    @ thetruth: War? What war? You mean when we invaded their country and took all their land away and then broke virtually every treaty we made with them?

    Is it really that big a deal to change the name of a lake to a word that means "healing waters" instead of its current name, which is basically "it's foamy like soap, so let's call it Soap Lake"? I think the settlers had been doing a little smokiam themselves.

  • thetruth posted at 10:43 am on Sat, Mar 3, 2012.

    thetruth Posts: 89

    I think the Indians get enough out of us.. The war is over and they drink there money away.. I don't think we should give them anything. They get billions and don't give back unless to there own. Things should change..

  • ML Wester posted at 11:46 pm on Thu, Mar 1, 2012.

    ML Wester Posts: 4

    I have an idea for a name change...Lets re-name Olympia to "Place Where Idiots Gather". Would need to translate that into a Native American Language of course. I am sick and tired of all this PC BS that just can't leave things well enough alone.

  • memyselfandi posted at 8:59 pm on Thu, Mar 1, 2012.

    memyselfandi Posts: 62

    Anybody ever tried fishing in Soap Lake?[beam]

  • Wild Bill posted at 7:04 pm on Thu, Mar 1, 2012.

    Wild Bill Posts: 76

    I think the name of the city should be Smokium Crackium.

  • No-Joke posted at 10:52 am on Thu, Mar 1, 2012.

    No-Joke Posts: 47

    A rose by any other name is still a rose, similarly, a cesspool by any other name is still a cesspool

  • Aristotle posted at 10:19 am on Thu, Mar 1, 2012.

    Aristotle Posts: 280

    It appears that SL Mayor Gravelle is thinking outside the box, and he is to be praised for that. The old guard was thrown out at the last election, and this may be the city's last chance to regain the status as a progressive and caring place to live in. The least we can do is share good will and friendliness with our Native American friends.