Estuary and New Elementary School Named in Honor of Puyallup Tribe

By Lisa Pemberton, Puyallup Tribal News Editor

Gig Harbor City Council and the Peninsula School Board recently approved names that honor the Puyallup Tribe.

On Feb. 25, the School Board voted to name its new school Swift Water Elementary School. It is at 10811 Harbor Hill Drive in Gig Harbor.

“The name Swift Water is taken from the translation of the Gig Harbor’s original Native American inhabitants (sx̌ʷəbabš) and their connection to the swift currents of the Narrows Passage,” the school district posted in a news release. “The Swift Water band of the Puyallup Tribe gifted a native building recognizing that the settlers needed one to teach their children.”

On Feb. 22, the Gig Harbor City Council voted 6-1 to rename Austin Estuary to txʷaalqəł Estuary. The 7-acre estuary is in the North Creek Watershed and includes the area around Austin Park and Donkey Creek Park.

“It’s restoring the original village site name, which has never been done in Gig Harbor,” said Puyallup Tribal Member and Land Use Planner Jennifer Keating.

The resolution, in part, reads: “Whereas, the City recognizes and honors the fact that Gig Harbor is built upon the homelands and villages of Indigenous Peoples of this region better known as a band of the Puyallup Tribe called sx̌ʷəbabš (translated: “swift water people”); and whereas, the land surrounding the estuary of North Creek was the location of along house of the sx̌ʷəbabš band and the area was of vital importance to the sx̌ʷəbabš band for salmon fishing, clam and oyster cultivation, and canoe carving.”

The City Council agreed to use Twulshootseed for the signage, and not use a phonetic spelling or translation for the new name. In English, it means “place where game exists.”

Tribal Council, Historic Preservation, Language Program and Land Use and Planning Department all had members who served on the city’s ad hoc advisory group who proposed the reclaimed name. Bean and Keating were also involved due to their roles at work, but they are also Gig Harbor residents.

“I was moved beyond words,” Keating said. “This is something that has been so desperately needed in the Gig Harbor community for so incredibly long. There’s been this old thought that when you teach tribal history out there, you’re replacing Scandinavian history and that’s simply not reality. … Native history is Washington state history. We can no longer look at it as an option to teach that history – it is history.”

Bean said she raises her hands to Keating for her leadership and work on the Gig Harbor efforts.

“She also serves as a Native American Parent Representative for the Peninsula School District,” Bean said. “It’s important to note she did work in Historic Preservation under Judy Wright. The combination of education of the land and history of our people becomes extremely valuable and impactful.”

Last fall, Gig Harbor City Council adopted a resolution to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day in October, and Native American Heritage Month in November. It also flew the Puyallup Tribe’s flag at City Hall. Future plans include recognition of the Gig Harbor waterfront as a historic district for the tribe, Keating said.

“Learning our history in Gig Harbor has been mind blowing,” Bean said. “The band of sx̌ʷəbabš are the direct ancestors of the Squally/Tougaw families. My partner Kirby Manzanares Jr. is a direct descendant of the sx̌ʷəbabš which through historical (records) we found to have lived off of Wollochet. The part that blows my mind is that his parents and siblings all live off of Wollochet now. I fought moving out to Gig Harbor. To know our children were called to be here is chilling, necessary and beautiful.”

She added that the Tribe is advocating for cultural and historical value to each area within its boundaries and ancestral lands.

“This is a beautiful time of restoration, revitalization, reclaiming and educating,” Bean said.