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The term Salish Sea is a geographic term for the Strait of Georgiamarker-Puget Soundmarker-Strait of Juan de Fucamarker region and environs in the Pacific Northwest of North America. It has been proposed as an official name for the complex of inland waterways stretching from Tumwater, Washingtonmarker at the south end of Puget Soundmarker to Desolation Soundmarker at the northern end of the Strait of Georgiamarker, British Columbiamarker, and also including the Strait of Juan de Fucamarker. The name is now official in the United States. Its first known use was in 1988: marine biologist Bert Webber from Bellingham, Washington, created the name for the combined waters in the region, intended to supplant the Georgia Strait, Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca placenames; its adoption, he says, will raise consciousness about taking care of the region's waters and ecosystems.. The current approval by Washington state and the recommendation to approve from the BC Geographical Names Office to its national equivalent, the Geographical Names Board of Canada, were the result of Webber's efforts to promote the term, although the proposal as opposed does not wipe the older names off the map, as had been the original intent. Opponents to the Salish Sea proposal aver that it is really a series of interconnected straits, sounds and inlets. Others oppose it for historic reasons and questions about the validity of the term "Salish".

Definition and issues

The proposed name change affects all those waters currently defined as Puget Soundmarker, the Strait of Georgiamarker, and waters adjoining them such as Hood Canalmarker and Bellingham Baymarker, plus the Strait of Juan de Fucamarker which connects the maze of waterways of the Georgia-Puget Basin to the Pacific Oceanmarker. Webber's original proposal for the renaming ended at the geographic division between the Salish and Nuu-chah-nulth/Makah peoples, halfway out the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but the proposals as approved or recommended extend the full length of the Strait, the formal limit of which is a line from the Cape Flattery light near Neah Baymarker to the Port San Juan light near Port Renfrewmarker. All current names will remain, with the name Salish Sea as an overlay combining them, rather than replacing them as had been the original proposal.

The complex of waterways in question were the central resource of the indigenous peoples who historically and presently inhabit the area, and claim to have done so "since time immemorial". The basin also includes territory of the Northern Wakashan Kwakwaka'wakw and Southern Wakashan peoples (the Nuu-chah-nulth, Makah, and Ditidaht) and, formerly, that of the Chemakum (a Chimakuan people related to the Quileute; they are now extinct, having been wiped out by the Suguamish and others in the 19th century).


The Coast Salish are a grouping of indigenous peoples who live in southwest British Columbia, and northwest Washington state and share a common linguistic and cultural origin. For most of their collective histories (which date back to 8,000 B.C.E.) there was no overarching term to describe these people as a whole. Today the Coast Salish are seen as one of the main cultural and linguistic branches of a larger group known as Salishan or Salish. There are five recognized divisions of the Salish language family, with Coast Salish and Interior Salish being the primary two. The Salish family consists of 23 separate languages. European and American explorers first encountered Salishan people along the Pacific Northwest coast in the late 18th century. The first detailed information was obtained by the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806. The term "Salish" was originally applied only to the Interior Salish Flathead tribe living in the region of Flathead Lakemarker, Montana. By the mid-20th century it had been extended to cover all people speaking a similar language. The Flathead Nation continues to refer to their language and culture as Salish. A variant name for Flathead Lake is "Selish Lake". The name Salish Sea was coined only in the late 20th century. There is no overarching title for this area or even a commonly shared name for any of the waterbodies in any of the Coast Salish languages.

The region encompassing these waterways is known variously as the Georgia-Puget or Puget-Georgia Basin, or in the singular as the Georgia Depression, the Georgia Basin or Puget Sound et al. The Canadian half of the region is regularly referred to as the Gulf of Georgiamarker, a term which encompasses the Strait of Georgia and all other waters peripheral to it, as well as to the communities lining its shores or on its islands; like the term "Puget Sound," the terms "Georgia Strait" and "Gulf of Georgia" describe the general region as well as the body of water.

Status of name-change application

In August, 2009 the BC Geographical Names Office approved a resolution recommending the Geographical Names Board of Canada adopt the name contingent on approval by the United States Board on Geographic Names. The name was endorsed by the Washington State Board on Geographic Names in late October, 2009. The United States Board on Geographic Names approved the name on November 12, 2009.

See also

Notes and references

  1. The Sound and the Sea, Paulo Pietropaulo, The Current, CBC Radio, November 2, 2009
  2. "Salish Sea" is a Foreign Term, Dustin Rivers,
  3. Oxford English Dictionary. Salish. Second Edition 1989 (online). Retrieved 2009-11-23.
  4. Washington state adopts “Salish Sea” name for body of water including Strait of Georgia, Carlito Pablo, Georgia Straight, October 30, 2009
  5. Smooth Sailing for the Salish Sea?, Knute Berger, Crosscut Blog, Oct 20, 2009
  6. U.S. approves Salish Sea name, Knute Berger, Crosscut Blog, Nov 12, 2009


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