Council supports Clingman’s Dome name change

by Jul 14, 2022NEWS ka-no-he-da0 comments


One Feather Staff


The area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park known as Clingman’s Dome has been known for thousands of years by Cherokee people as Kuwahi (“mulberry place”).  The Tribal Council of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) approved legislation during its regular session on Thursday, July 14 that supports changing the name back to that historic, traditional name.

Lavita Hill and Mary “Missy” Crowe are shown outside the Tribal Council House immediately following Tribal Council’s passage of their resolution on Thursday, July 14 that gives support from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for their idea to change the name of Clingman’s Dome to Kuwahi – the original Cherokee term for the place. (SCOTT MCKIE B.P./One Feather photo)

Led by two Cherokee women who submitted the legislation, Lavita Hill and Mary “Missy” Crowe, the legislation passed unanimously by all Council representatives present (Vice Chairman Albert Rose and Wolftown Rep. Bo Crowe had excused absences).

During discussion on the legislation, Beloved Woman Myrtle Driver and Sally Arch, Tribal Council interpreter, brought up that there might be a dialect difference in the word Kuwahi used by some fluent Cherokee speakers.  Both Hill and Crowe noted that their next step in the process is to go before the Cherokee Speakers Council to get an official statement for the term.

“Overall, what we’re doing is for our community and our people,” Hill said during discussion.  “I don’t want a language barrier to stop this action.”

Crowe commented, “We want to open this up to anyone who wants to join us in doing the research and to make sure that we do this right because this is going to the federal government on up to the Secretary of the Interior. So, we would like to make sure that we do have everything.”

She added, “In understanding who we are, knowing that not only is this a spiritual, it’s historic and it’s a fact today when we have our sister tribe, the United Keetoowah Band, that comes from this. What I had always heard in the stories is that they picked up the fire from medicine men that met up at what they referred to as ‘Kuwahi’.”

Crowe said the area has been there for Cherokee people for thousands of years.  “What we hope to do is to be able to come as a collective community group of elders to us…to our younger folks. We see this as an avenue for our younger generation to learn, to relearn – to relearn who and what we are as a people that Creator placed here.”

The resolution describes the area, “Kuwahi or ‘mulberry place’, is the highest point in our area and has significant to us as Cherokees as it was visited by medicine people who prayed and sought guidance from the Creator regarding important matters facing our people, and then returned to our towns to give guidance and advice.”

Beloved Woman Driver said she is hopeful this will be a catalyst.  “This might be a stepping stone to getting all the others changed. One example would be ‘Judaculla’. That is so wrong.”

Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy said, “Thank you both. I appreciate this type of legislation coming in here…I have to agree with what’s been said. There are places in the neighborhood that we need to correct some names on. While they may have had it for 70 years, we had it like 15,000 to 20,000 years ago…”

Following the passage of the legislation, Hill told the One Feather, “It just feels good.  First of all, I’m very grateful for the support.  I’m grateful for Myrtle and Sally to talk about the language.  We’re going to move forward so that the mountain presently known as Clingman’s Dome is restored to its original name which we believe is ‘Kuwahi’.”

She added, “Here’s our chance to honor our ancestors. Maybe we can’t take the land back, but we’re going to put the language out there and we’re going to put education out there and more people are going to know that this was Cherokee homeland. Let’s honor them. Let’s give them this name. Let’s respect them in that regard.”

The official process starts with the filing of an application for a name change through the United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN).

In early June, the BGN voted 15-0 to change the name of Mount Doane, located in the Yellowstone National Park.  According to a press release from the National Park Service, “The peak was previously named after Gustavus Doane, a key member of the Washburn-Langford-Doane expedition in 1870 prior to Yellowstone becoming America’s first national park.  Research has shown that earlier that same year (1870), Doane led an attack, what is now known as the Marias Massacre, at least 173 American Indians were killed, including many women, elderly tribal members, and children suffering from smallpox.  Doane wrote fondly about this attack and bragged about it for the rest of his life.”

The name change in Yellowstone was spurred by recommendations from the Rocky Mountain Tribal Council.