By Randy Parks
The Oregon Geographic Names Board (OGNB) held their summer meeting in Burns on Saturday, June 23, to discuss possible name changes in Harney and Malheur counties, as well as several other locations in the state.
President Sharon Nesbit reminded those in attendance that OGNB is an advisory board to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN) and the BGN makes the final decisions on name changes or replacements.
During the public comment period of the meeting, several people spoke out against the proposed name changes in Harney and Malheur counties. The changes would remove the word “squaw” from each location while at the same time re-naming the location with a proposal from the Burns Paiute Tribe in their native language.
Some opposed to the changes felt the re-naming could hinder emergency situations, such as a Search and Rescue Operation.
Others felt that pronouncing the names could be problematic.
Greg Smith of Keizer, who also owns property between John Day and Baker City, stated that the OGNB was in error when they claimed that the word “squaw” must be eliminated because of a state law. “That is not true,” Smith said. “There is no mandate to get rid of that word and you’re confusing people. You need to step back and figure out what is law and what is not.”
Smith added that 44 other proposals were submitted by the public and they were all rejected by the board in favor of the tribal proposals.
The tribal requests are a response to 2001 Oregon legislative action calling for the elimination of the word “squaw” from Oregon’s place names.
Diane Teeman, a member of the Burns Paiute Tribal Council, said that the tribe was removed from the area in the late 19th century and had little or no input on geographic names despite the fact that they had lived in the area for centuries. “I appreciate that the name ‘squaw’ is to be removed,” Teeman said. “And the proposed names will continue to reflect our tribal history.”
Nesbit told the board that there were initially seven names up for consideration in Harney County, but they had received two new name proposals from property owners so they would not be acting on those two locations until the new proposals could be considered.
The board discussed whether they should recommend the tribal names or the English translation. Some felt that pronunciation of the names would be a hindrance, while others were somewhat offended by the idea of using the translation.
Teeman explained that the name proposals had been researched by tribal elders and the names were common-use names, most often derived from events or the visual aspect.
When it came to a vote, the OGNB voted to recommend the five name changes to the BGN. Those names are: Kaiba agai Creek (Mountain Trout Creek); Puhi-Pane Na-De Flat (pretty Blue Flat); Puhi-Pane Na-De Lake (Pretty Blue Lake); WogonagaT potso-na Flat (Whispering Pine Flat); and WogonagaT potso-na Spring (Whispering Pine Spring).
As for the 14 proposed changes in Malheur County, a motion was made to wait until the OGNB meeting in November to make a decision to see if any other proposals came in.
Several board members felt that people have had since 2001 to submit proposals and a delay wasn’t needed.
The board voted against delaying the recommendations and then voted in favor of sending them on to the BGN.
The board also voted to recommend one other name replacement, Téemux Creek, in Wallowa County. Other recommendations included High Lakes Pass in Klamath County, Little Elk Creek in Jackson County and Shadley Spring in Wasco County.
Carol Dunten of Drewsey asked the board to consider returning the Bartlett Spring name to what is now known as O’Toole Spring. The board agreed to gather more information before their winter meeting.
The board also deferred any action on the proposed name of “Silvertip Peak” in Wallowa County.
Nisbet announced that the group’s winter meeting was tentatively scheduled for Nov. 3 in Clackamas County.