By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Asst. Editor
CHEROKEE, N.C. – The effort by two Cherokee women to restore the name of Kuwohi to an area in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is now one step closer to coming to fruition. The Tribal Council of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) passed Res. No. 72 (2024) unanimously during its regular session on Thursday, Jan. 4 that approves the submittal of an application on behalf of the Tribe to restore the name of the mountain currently known as Clingman’s Dome to Kuwohi which means ‘mulberry place’ in the Cherokee language.
Lavita Hill and Mary “Missy” Crowe, both EBCI tribal members, started this effort in 2022 and have gotten widespread support for the initiative. Tribal Council approved Res. No. 343 (2002) unanimously which “officially began the process of exploring the possibility of petitioning the federal government” for the name change.
During discussion on the issue on Thursday, Hill said, “It was hard but rewarding work. It was a mission I didn’t know I would ever be on. Mostly though, it was an incredible opportunity to learn not only more about myself, our culture, and our history, but to also educate others willing to learn and understand. The amount of support we have received is overwhelming.”
She said now is a good time to submit the application as the Secretary of the Interior is Deb Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna. “With a strong leader advocating for Indigenous rights for the Department of Interior, now is the time to act. In 2022, Mount Doane was renamed the First Peoples Mountain in Yellowstone National Park. My hope is that in 2024, Kuwohi will become the official name of the tallest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – restoring its original name.”
Of the name itself, Hill noted, “Kuwohi, the mulberry place, is the place our ancestors traveled to pick mulberries and eventually hid in the 1800s before the Indian Removal Act and before the U.S. government said our people can remain in our homeland. Our medicine men went to the top of the mountain to pray and seek guidance from the Creator. Kuwohi is a sacred place to our people, and Kuwohi is the rightful name of the mountain.”
Crowe said, “I can’t express how happy and excited I am to be here today with Lavita. When we first started this, just to let our people and our community know that whenever we build a common ground and we have good intentions and we have good hearts and we really want to do something good together, we can accomplish it. There were many times when she had to go alone, I had to go alone, but we knew that this was something that we decided within ourselves that we would be dedicated to.”
Principal Chief Michell Hicks, whose office will officially submit the application on behalf of the Tribe, said on Thursday, “I want to commend these ladies. This is one item that makes you extremely proud…we are planning a trip to D.C. and let’s plan to make this one of our top priorities…this is not only great, I think this is awesome the work that you guys are doing.”
Many Tribal Council representatives praised the efforts of Hill and Crowe on Thursday including Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell who said, “I’m proud of both of you. I’m proud of your strength and proud of your passion and conviction in this cause that you took all of the time on your own. You’re a good example of strong Cherokee women.”
Res. No. 72 states, “…community support for the restoration of the Kuwohi name has been overwhelming, including formal support from multiple local governments, including the counties of: Buncombe, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain, Graham, Clay, and Cherokee, and the towns of Asheville, Andrews, Murphy, Hayesville, Fontana Dam, Lake Santeetlah, Robbinsville, Canton, Clyde, Maggie Valley, Waynesville, Dillsboro, Sylva, Webster, the Village of Forrest Hills, Franklin, Highlands, and Bryson City in western North Carolina, and the counties of Knox and Cambel in eastern Tennessee.”
In April 2022, the Tennessee General Assembly passed H.J.R. 452, submitted by State Rep. Justin Jones (D-District 52), which states, “Ms. Crowe and Ms. Hill are testaments to the power of dedication and determination, and their laudable mission deserves to be acknowledged; now, therefore, be it resolved by the House of Representatives of the One Hundred Thirteenth General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, the Senate concurring, that we honor and commend Mary Crowe and Lavita Hill on their efforts to restore the traditional Cherokee name of ‘Kuwohi’ to Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and wish them all the best in their future endeavors.”
As a result of their work, Crowe and Hill were among the 2022 recipients of the Dogwood Awards given annually by the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office. N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein said in a statement at the time, “Lavita and Mary are working to make sure that their tribe’s history is recognized and honored. They are advocating to restore the name Kuwohi, which means mulberry place, from Clingman’s Dome, which was named for a Confederate general. In doing so, their efforts will help to commemorate the long history of the Eastern Band of Cherokee in North Carolina.”