By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Asst. Editor
KUWOHI – Two Cherokee women are leading the fight to reclaim the original name for an area in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park currently known as Clingman’s Dome. For thousands of years, that area was known as Kuwohi (“mulberry place”), and Lavita Hill and Mary “Missy” Crowe want to see it restored – a movement that many others are getting behind; as they should.
First and foremost, the Tribal Council of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians passed a resolution unanimously on July 14 advocating for the change.
In August, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution in support of the effort stating, “Buncombe County is committed to creating an inclusive community that celebrates diversity and ensures all residents have equitable opportunities to lead healthy, peaceful, safe, and sustainable lives.” The resolution continues, “…this Board declares its support of any and all efforts of the Tribal Council of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to restore the name Kuwohi to the mountain presently known as ‘Clingman’s Dome’.”
Other county and city governments in western North Carolina have since followed suit including Swain County Commissioners, Asheville City Council, and the Town of Murphy.
The Kuwohi effort is a prime example of a process known as Place Name Repatriation. And it is exactly what it sounds like – a return to the original, Indigenous names of places all around the world.
Dr. Derek Alderman, a University of Tennessee geography professor, was quoted in a recent WATE News 6 report about the importance of the Kuwohi effort, “…it refers back to their spiritual, historical connection to the mountain. That spiritual-historical connection should be recognized, and it should be restored to public recognition.”
Crowe spoke to that spiritual connection when her and Hill introduced their legislation to Tribal Council in July stating, “In understanding who we are, knowing that not only is this 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 up at what they referred to as Kuwohi.”
I firmly believe that this effort is going as well as it is because of the way Crowe and Hill are tackling the situation. They’re working for; not against. They’re working for the name to be restored as Kuwohi; not fighting against the legacy of Confederate General Thomas Lanier Clingman.
And they’re not just getting support for the name repatriation. They’re educating the public on the history of the area and the region and reminding the public that Cherokee people are still in these mountains. Way beyond the name repatriation, the educational components Crowe and Hill are adding to their meetings and presentations are invaluable.
Hill summed up their efforts when she told Tribal Council in July, “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.”
It’s great seeing all the support for this name repatriation, and I fully expect that this will occur in 2023 and we’ll all be up there for the official naming event. I wonder if they’ll have a ribbon cutting on an area that’s existing since time immemorial?