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Opinion

What's good for Denali should be good for Kuwahi

September 9th, 2015 11:30 am by Editorial Board

What's good for Denali should be good for Kuwahi

For a century, Mount Denali lent its name to President William McKinley, which seems sufficient homage to the assassinated president.

Alaska’s and North America’s highest peak now has its rightful name back, but what a fuss this has created, particularly among federal lawmakers in McKinley’s home state of Ohio.

There is a process for naming or renaming such landmarks, and it was followed in restoring the name Mount Denali, despite Ohio Rep. Bob Gibbs’ claim that it was another Obama illegal overreach.

For 40 years, Ohio lawmakers stymied Alaska’s efforts to restore the mountain’s name. Alaska had a standing request for the federal government to do so since 1975, even after Mount McKinley National Park was renamed Denali National Park 35 years ago.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced the restoration of Mount Denali’s name under a 1947 law that gives her office that authority when the U.S. Board on Geographic Names fails to act “within a reasonable time.” Forty years is most certainly unreasonable.

If Ohio’s federal lawmakers are so offended, they have their own “mountain” available to honor McKinley, the last U.S. president to serve in the Civil War. The highest elevation in Ohio in the otherwise rather flat state is Campbell Hill at 1,550 feet, named after someone who bought and sold it.

We await action by the Ohio legislature to rename Campbell Hill as McKinley Hill.

McKinley wasn’t a bad president, but mountains ought to be named for our greatest presidents.

But back home, Tennessee has a similar situation to Mount Denali, originally named by Alaska’s Native Americans. Denali is an Athabascan word meaning “the high one.”

The highest point in Tennessee is Clingmans Dome south of Gatlinburg in the Great Smokies. At 6,643 feet, it is also the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi.

So why is it named after what some might think is the top of someone’s head?

The mountain was dubbed Smoky Dome by early American settlers and in 1859 renamed after Civil War Gen. Thomas Clingman, but never officially. But prior to that time the mountain already had a name, compliments of the Native Americans who lived and hunted on and around it.

The Cherokee name for Clingmans Dome is Kuwahi or “mulberry place.” According to a Cherokee myth recorded in the late 1800s, the mountain was the home of the White Bear, the great chief of all bears, and the location of one of the bears’ council houses.

The enchanted lake of Atagahi (Gall place,) the waters of which could cure wounded bears, was believed by the Cherokee to be located somewhere between Kuwahi and the headwaters of the Oconaluftee River to the east. And so, Alaskan natives have been recognized in the restoration of Mount Denali. Should not Tennessee natives be recognized in the restoration of Mount Kuwahi?

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