Soap Lake is a small town with a population of nearly 2,000 residents on the eastern side of Washington state. The lake in Soap Lake has been known for hundreds of years to local Native American Tribes that used it as a source of healing waters because of its unique mineral content, 23 minerals in total. It also contains ichthyol, commonly used for healing cuts and abrasions.
According to the Soap Lake Chamber of Congress website, Soap Lake first appeared in historical text in 1878 and aquired the name Soap Lake in 1918. An Army Corp of Engineers Lieutenant reportedly stated that ” even the most hopeful and sanquine(SIC) can see no future for it”. But now it is home to a small community determined to survive the current recession.
Local Native American tribes are now coming forward in support of reclaiming their namesake, and for a town that is faced with economic collapse, the debate has rocked the small community. With the recent economic bust, many local residents in Soap Lake rely on tourism to survive. Some local residents fear that the change would have a negative impact on the lake’s popularity; others believe that the name change would boost tourism and give rise to the rich history of the lake.
There’s a request from the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation to reclaim the name: Lake Chim-Ti-Wa-Tum. They addressed the name change issue in a letter to the Washington state Department of Natural Resources, as the indigenous people of the land and lake stated in a treaty signed in 1855.
While yet another local tribal government, the Confederated Tribes of Colville supports a request from two non-tribal members to rename the lake to Lake Smokiam. This was the name that was used by the Colville Tribes’ ancestors. The Colville Tribes have accepted and backed this proposal and are expected to have a presence in the name change meeting. The Confederate Tribes of Colville’s Chairman Michael Finley said that the suggestion of the name change by two non-tribal members “demonstrates their dedication to bridging the gap between the native and Anglo communities.”
While there have been arguments made both for and against the name change, compromise seems nowhere in sight. Soap Lake’s City Council voted 6-0 against the name change. But now state government will hold a hearing and decide the fate of the small town lake, which has caused big ripples in the community.
The public meeting to address the name change will take place in the state’s capital of Olympia on May 18, 2012.