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Tribal Council endorses Clingmans Dome name change

The request to change the mountain's name in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Kuwahi will eventually be forwarded to federal authorities.

Great Smoky Mountains Natl. Park — Noting the "sacred" nature of the mountain, the Tribal Council of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee endorsed a bid Thursday to rename Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to its native "Kuwahi."

Supporters Mary Crowe and Lavita Hill told the council such a move will help younger members of the North Carolina-based tribe understand and appreciate their heritage. 

The mountain was known among the Cherokee as Kuwahi long before it was named after North Carolina Sen. Thomas Lanier Clingman, who lived in the 19th century, they said.

To the Cherokee, the mountain always has had special significance. Medicine people would go to the summit, seeking guidance from the Creator about tribal matters.

Credit: Library of Congress
Map in Library of Congress detailing Smokies and Clingmans Dome.

Kuwahi translates to "mulberry place" in English.

A resolution approved by the council states that the act of naming the mountain after Clingman was disrespectful to the Cherokee people. Further, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, a Native American herself, has proved open to talking with tribes about changing more modern names on federal land back to their tribal origins when appropriate.

"From time immemorial, the landscape, including the mountains and streams, has shaped our history as Cherokee people," the resolution states.

Clingman served with the Confederacy during the Civil War. He's buried in Asheville.

Councilmember Tommye Saunooke observed that with renaming, a small sign could be erected at the appropriate place to alert visitors to the era when the mountain formerly was called Clingmans Dome. And then, after a while, that sign could be removed.

The National Park Service exists under the federal Interior Department's umbrella.

As stated in the resolution, with the council's blessing supporters such as Hill and Crowe now will prepare a petition for the name change.

Tribal leaders will review that petition for submission to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. The board, which falls under the U.S. Geological Survey, has authority over the naming of sites under federal control.

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