Tribe OKs BI elementary school name change

Capt. Charles Wilkes Elementary’s name has been changed to x̌alilc (Halilts) Elementary, which means marked edge or rock in the Lushootseed language.

The school board of the Bainbridge Island School District made the decision March 30.

“We deeply appreciate the name that the Suquamish Nation has gifted our community,” BISD superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen said. “This is not only an opportunity to right past injustices and honor our neighbors and original inhabitants of Bainbridge and the surrounding area, but it is also an opportunity to educate our children about the Suquamish Tribe’s historic and ongoing contributions.”

The Suquamish Tribal Council and the tribe’s culture co-op voted to give the BISD renaming committee permission to use the name x̌alilc (Halilts). x̌alilc is an important petroglyph belonging to the Suquamish Tribe located on Agate Point at the northern end of BI.

The petroglyph’s origin is unknown, but archeologist Dan Leen, who specializes in Northwest Coast petroglyphs, suggests the designs are more than 1,600 years old. Some petroglyphs have served as welcome signs to visitors in indigenous territories. x̌alilc (Halilts) may have been such a welcome to signal the boundaries of the dxʷsəq’ʷəb village, later the site of Old Man House, home of Chief Seattle.

The Renaming Committee used a consensus process with criteria from district policy and procedure, the District Improvement Plan, and Wilkes community feedback to narrow a list of 89 suggestions to three: Akio Suyematsu, x̌alilc (Halilts), and Sunrise Hill.

BISD is working with the Suquamish Tribe to transition the school name to x̌alilc (Halilts) Elementary for the start of the 2023-24 school year.

The board also officially adopted the Orca as the school’s mascot.

The character of Wilkes came into question, and that’s what led to the name change.