The 2-mile channel between the south end of Orcas Island and the north end of Shaw Island formerly known as Harney Channel has received a name change.

On Tuesday, July 5 the Washington State Board of Natural Resources approved renaming the waterway Cayou Channel for longtime local resident Henry Cayou.

The channel was originally named by the British around 1860 for U.S. General William S. Harney. In 2021, a group of San Juan Islands residents stared a petition and submitted a proposal to the state because they did not feel that General Harney deserved the honor. According to the Washington State DNR, “Gen. William Harney, is best known for nearly starting the San Juan Islands ‘Pig War’ between the United States and England in 1859. Harney killed an enslaved Black woman in 1834 and commanded the killing of Indigenous women and children during the 1855 Battle of Ash Hollow, among other ignominious acts (Source:”

The approved name will be added to the Washington Administrative Code, and the Washington State Board of Natural Resources will pass the proposal along to the United States Board on Geographic Names for federal review.

Henry Cayou was born on Orcas Island in 1869 and was interred on Orcas upon his passing in 1959. His father was a trapper who was an early settler of Orcas Island and his mother was from the longstanding indigenous villages on the shorelines of what is now known as Mitchell and Garrison Bays on San Juan Island, and she had Samish and Lummi relations. 

Cayou was a highly successful commercial fisherman (trapping and seining), and his fish processing plant at Deer Harbor was so successful that it kept local people employed even through the depression in the 1930’s. He was also an early local maritime leader, owning a steam tug and a successful boatyard in partnership with his brothers-in-law at Reads Bay of Decatur Island. He also farmed a 500-acre tract on Waldron Island and participated in the initiation of the local electric cooperative in the early 20th century which is now known as OPALCO (Orcas Power and Light Cooperative). Henry Cayou was elected to the San Juan County Council, where he served 29 years and was chair when Friday Harbor was incorporated. He is the only Native American to have been elected to this county’s board or council. 

Editor’s note: Feature image courtesy of Ken Carrasco.