Place names convey a people’s relationship to the land, their sense of place. For indigenous peoples, place names can also help to revive endangered languages.
In 2011 UBC Press published the book Nooksack Place Names: Geography, Culture, Language, by Allan Richardson and Brent Galloway, which takes readers on a voyage into the history, language, and culture of the Nooksack people of Washington State and British Columbia as it documents more than 150 places named by elders and mentioned in key historical texts. This Nooksack Place Names audio-visual material accompanies the book, and together they show the richness and strength of the Noosack people’s connection to the land.
Allan Richardson is a consulting anthropologist, retired from teaching at Whatcom Community College in Bellingham, Washington. Brent Galloway is professor emeritus at the First Nations University of Canada in Regina, Saskatchewan. From the beginning, their task was to preserve as much of the ancient knowledge as they could; to locate, visit, and document every named Nooksack place; and to discover the authentic literal meanings of the names through ethnohistorical research and linguistic analysis. The work was a fascinating combination of collaboration with a wonderful group of Nooksack elders, digging into historical records, and travel to all the named rivers, creeks, villages, mountains, and other sites of the Nooksack people. The photographs in this website were taken by Allan Richardson over a period of two years from 1979 to 1981.
The Nooksack language is called Lhéchelesem. (“Lh” is like a blown voice “l”, “e” is like the sound in “nut,” and “ch” is as in “church,” while the accent shows the vowel pronounced the loudest.) The pronunciations of the place names that you will hear on this website are those of George Adams (Syélpxen), a fluent speaker since 2002, who has developed curriculum materials and teaches classes in Nooksack. He is also captain of the Nooksack canoes that each year travel on a journey with canoes from many other tribes of British Columbia and Washington.
It is the authors’ hope that by reading the results of their thirty-five years of work, finding the places on the maps, looking at the photographs of these places, and listening to an elder’s pronunciations of all of the place names, you will get a feel for the language and cultural traditions of the Nooksack people, and their knowledge and historical uses of the places.