Redefining Chuckanut

To the editor:

What is the original meaning of the word “Chuckanut”? The highlighted box “Defining Chuckanut” in the October/November 2016 Whatcom Watch fails in its attempt to answer this question. The item begins with a correct statement: “The term Chuckanut, it is agreed, is a local Indian term.” What follows in the article has no basis in what is known from native traditions and the native languages of this area.

The Nooksack, Lummi and other Coast Salish groups used Chuckanut Bay, and they should be the ones to provide the answer. Two clear answers are known and are available in print in “Nooksack Place Names” (Allan Richardson and Brent Galloway, 2011, University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver, B.C.).

For the Nooksack people, Chuckanut Bay was the most important area for clam digging, gathering other shellfish and saltwater fishing. In the original Nooksack language, the place name is better written as Chúkwenet and means “beach or tide goes way out,” or more literally, “distant, far away bottom.” The main Nooksack camp was at the mouth of Chuckanut Creek, and the meaning certainly fits the bay viewed from this location.

An alternative meaning of Chuckanut comes from the Lummi language (Northern Straits Salish). The Lummi form, written as Chéqwenet, means “burn at the bottom.”  This meaning relates to fires that were regularly set to keep the slopes above the bay clear of brush.

Allan Richardson

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