American Culture /

Cherokee Tribe Seeks to Rename Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The tribal council says the men associated with the name were known racists

A Cherokee tribal council wants to change the name of the highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Council passed a resolution to switch the mountain to the Cherokee name “Kuwahi.”

Situated on the Tennesse-North Carolina border, the mountain is in an area considered to be the tribe’s ancestral homeland. Cherokee medicine people would go to the mountain to pray for guidance fo their communities.

The mountain is “well documented in oral teachings” and “is also a place where many of our ancestors were forced to go to avoid being taken away from our homes during removal and therefore has a unique cultural and historical significance to us,” the council states in its resolution.

The tribe also contends that the mountain’s namesake, after former the United States Senator Thomas Clingman of North Carolina, “had no substantial ties to the Cherokee people.”

Clingman, a Democrat, was born in Huntsville in 1812.

During his time in the Senate, Clingman sponsored secession and the state right to slavery. Despite the North Carolina Senator’s staunch views on slavery, Clingman was the last to leave the Union Senate in 1861,” reports the North Carolina History Project. “Clingman became a commissioner at the Confederate capital in Montgomery, Alabama, after North Carolina left the Union.”

Clingman was known for challenging one of his former professors, Elisha Mitchell, in the 1850s. He believed the academic had miscalculated the location of the highest point in North Carolina. 

Clingman’s Dome, the state’s second highest peak, was named for him by geographer Arnold Henry Guyot in 1859. Clingman died in 1897.

The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians Tribal Council plans to spread awareness of the mountain’s cultural ties through public education and community outreach.

“The history of re-naming Kuwahi to ‘Clingman’s Dome’ shows the name of Clingman was designated by a proponent of scientific racism (Guyot) on behalf of an avowed racist (Clingman) in an action that was disrespectful to Cherokee people, culture, history and traditions,” the Cherokee organization stated.

The group intends to apply to change its name through the US Board of Geographic Names in December. 

In June, the National Park Service agreed to rename Mount Doane after the Rocky Mountain Tribal Council filed a name change application. The council had said that the Yellowstone mountain’s namesake, Gustav Doane, had ties to a retaliatory massacre of Piegan Blackfeet people in 1870.

The 15 members of the US Board of Geographic Names agreed unanimously to rename the mountain First Peoples Mountain.

The Department of the Interior, which oversees the national parks, announced in November of 2021 that Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland had “formally established a process to review and replace derogatory names of the nation’s geographic features” through Secretarial Order 3404.

“Racist terms have no place in our vernacular or on our federal lands. Our nation’s lands and waters should be places to celebrate the outdoors and our shared cultural heritage – not to perpetuate the legacies of oppression,” Haaland said in a statement.

The Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force is a committee of 13 people representing a number of federal offices including the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, National Park Service, Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Civil Rights, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation, and U.S. Geological Survey. The task force was charged with renaming geographic features whose names included the word “squaw” which Haaland declared a derogatory term.

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