Wusi'n Creek

A small cataract tumbles down a steep ravine in the upper Alsea River watershed on Marys Peak. The name proposed for this stream is Wusi'n Creek, from the indigenous name for the Alsea people. 

A proposal to give Native American names to 10 unnamed creeks that flow down the slopes of Marys Peak, the prominent mountain west of Philomath, has been unanimously endorsed by the Oregon Geographic Names Board.

All 21 board members present at the organization’s June 15 meeting in Roseburg voted to approve the naming proposal, submitted in April by the Marys Peak Alliance.

The state board will forward the names, with its official blessing, to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names for consideration. Formal approval by the national body is required before a place name becomes official.

Bruce Fisher, the chair of the Oregon Geographic Names Board, said it can take a year or longer before the national board makes a decision, but he’s not anticipating any obstacles in this case.

“I would think these would be approved fairly easily because there’s no opposition,” Fisher said June 25.

Efforts to relabel geographic features that already have names can sometimes generate significant pushback, Fisher said, but the streams proposed for naming on Marys Peak never had official identifiers before.

Marys Peak Alliance member Dave Eckert, who spent nearly three years developing the proposal, went to great lengths to garner support for the project from everyone who might have a stake in the decision, from private property owners and timber companies to government land managers such as the Siuslaw National Forest and Bureau of Land Management and local jurisdictions such as Benton County and the city of Corvallis.

From the outset, Eckert also secured the involvement of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde and Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, who represent some of the area’s ancestral inhabitants. And the names proposed for adoption are in the languages of the Kalapuya, Wusi’n and Yaqo’n people, who once occupied the lands around Marys Peak and whose descendants still live in the area.

At the suggestion of David Harrelson, cultural resources officer for the Grand Ronde tribes, the stakeholder group used a decision-making process called a convening to determine what names to propose.

Eckert said he had never heard the term before, but the two convenings held by the group were successful in generating consensus.

“The process worked very, very well, much to my surprise, to make sure everybody had a chance to give their uncriticized opinion,” he said. “Everybody clearly spoke their mind. It wasn’t a following-the-leaders type of thing.”

Among the names under consideration are Ahnhoots, a Kalapuya word meaning “the panther”; Pa’wint, which is Wusi’n for “cinnamon bear”; and Yaqo’n, in honor of the Yaqo’n people.

The Oregon Geographic Names Board was so impressed with the proposal that it has invited Eckert and Harrelson to give a presentation on the convening process at next year’s national convention of the Council of Geographic Names Authorities, which will be held in Portland.

According to Fisher, the convening process used in the naming proposal for the Marys Peak creeks shows promise for bringing harmony to the sometimes highly contentious process for renaming geographic features.

“There seems to be a trend, a new trend, and we’re going with it because we want to get more indigenous names on the landscape,” Fisher said.

“They were here first, and I think it’s a connection to history and the past,” he added. “We have enough Elk Creeks and Clear Creeks and Clear Lakes. Putting indigenous names (on geographic features) seems like something that should have been done a long time ago.”

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