Native Languages and Names for Mt. Baker

Dear Watchers:

The article “The Nooksack River: A Treasure to Preserve: Part 1” in the March 2019 issue of Whatcom Watch provides an excellent overview of the Nooksack watershed. The author uses my book “Nooksack Place Names” as his primary source for native names and traditions in this area. (1) Unfortunately, he makes errors regarding native languages and names for Mt. Baker. These occur together in the following sentence: “The Middle Fork originates from the glaciers such as Deming and Thunder on the western slopes of Mt. Baker (Komo Kulshan and variants thereof in the Salish language).” “Komo Kulshan” is not the name for Mt. Baker in any native language, and there is no one Salish language — Salishan is a family of 23 related, but quite distinct languages. There are some quite different names used for Mt. Baker in different Salishan languages. This topic is explored in an article which I co-authored: “Koma Kulshan: The Misnaming of a Mountain.” (2) The following passage from the article highlights the multiple native names for the mountain:

The speakers of the four Salishan languages nearest to Mount Baker each had a different name for the mountain. In the Nooksack language, the ice- and snow-covered top is named Kweq’ Smánit, literally “white mountain,” while the high meadows around the peak are Kwelshán, meaning “shooting place” because it was an important hunting area. In the Halkomelem language along the Fraser River, the one name for the mountain is Kwelxá:lxw, and in Lummi it is Kwelshán. These are clearly cognate to the Nooksack Kwelshán, but Lummi sources take it to mean a place that has been wounded by a shot. To Lushootseed speakers along the Skagit River, Mount Baker is Teqwúbe7, meaning any “snow-capped peak,” a term also used for Mount Rainier and which comes into English as Tacoma.

The often-used name Kulshan clearly is a native name for Mt. Baker, but not the native name for the mountain. Koma (or Komo) Kulshan is not a native name for Mt. Baker.

Allan Richardson

1. Richardson, A. & Galloway, B. (2011). “Nooksack place names: Geography, culture, and language.” Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press.

2. Richardson, A. and Lloyd, T. A. (2014). “Koma Kulshan: The misnaming of a mountain.” The Journal of the Whatcom County Historical Society, 14, 64-85.

Allan Richardson received an M.A. in Anthropology from the University of Washington, Seattle, and taught Anthropology at Whatcom Community College for 38 years. He has published articles on Northwest Coast native culture and has served as consultant to the Nooksack Indian Tribe for a number of grants and legal cases. He lives on a small farm on the outskirts of Bellingham.

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