The meaning of the name Samish is the “giving people, the people who stand up and give” in proto-Salish origins. The Samish Indian Nation has always held a deep-rooted respect for the traditions of sharing with its neighbors and chooses to carry on this tradition by contributing to the local community’s thirst for knowledge of the first people. The Tribe’s historic lands have been inhabited for thousands of years by the ancestors of the Samish and their Coast Salish neighbors. These waterways were the original highways as travel by canoe among the first people connected people with family, friends, and opportunities to trade goods and food supplies; just like the modern day ferry brings people and products together.
“This is a true blessing and a great honor for our people. The people of our beautiful state will all share in this blessing, on their travels through our traditional waters and territories, known as “The Salish Sea.” The Native peoples’ highways and byways connect the past and present, uniting and strengthening families and communities on the Islands and Peninsula. This new ferry named Samish will be allowing all who travel the enjoyment and knowledge of what the First Peoples here have always known. What a special place we live in, this jewel known as the San Juan Island and the Salish Sea,” said Samish Tribal Chairman Thomas Wooten.
“We feel that it is really fitting that our name is placed on one of the ferries since these waterways were traveled by canoes among the Samish people just like the greater community will be traveling the same waters by ferry. We value Washington State and its commitment to honor Indian Tribes in this manner,” said Chairman Wooten.
The name Tokitae was also selected. Tokitae is a Coast Salish greeting meaning “nice day, pretty colors,” and is the name of an orca captured in 1970 at Whidbey Island’s Penn Cove and better known as Lolita at the Miami Seaquarium. The name was suggested by the Orca Network.
“So honored to have a ferry named after Tokitae/Lolita—let’s hope it will help raise awareness of the lasting damage done by the orca captures of the 60s and 70s, and of Tokitae’s life in Miami—and be another step toward bringing her home, so she can swim with her family, next to the new ferry named after her,” said Susan Berta and Howard Garrett of the Orca Network.
Names that were not selected were Cowlitz, Hoquiam, Muckleshoot, Sammamish, and Ivar Haglund.
Namely, that Indians are okay if they're safely imagined in a romanticized past of peace and brotherhood. But not if they're competing ferociously with non-Indian businesses and governments today? Hmm.
The same thinking might've been going on when officials decided to name ferries for Native places but not tribal leaders. A place name is abstract and nonthreatening. A person forces you to consider Indians as individuals with histories and rights.
As we've seen with place-name battles, anything that strikes too close to home causes non-Indians to feel threatened and victimized. Even though they have the vast majority of the power and wealth in the country. This may be another case of that.
For more on the subject, see Ferries Named for Native Places and Ferries Won't Be Named for Indians.