‘Ti’Swaq’: Puyallup leader eyes Mount Rainier, other Northwest landmarks
By Rob Carson
“You know the feeling,” he said. “You adjust the temperature a little bit this way, a little bit that way and when it’s just perfect you just stand there and go ‘Ahhh’ while it flows over you.”
That’s the way he felt, said Satiacum, a member of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, when it came to him that the original name of the Northwest’s tallest mountain needed to be restored.
That was several months ago, and since then Satiacum’s idea has grown into an American Indian crusade–not just to start calling Mount Rainier “Ti’Swaq,” but to restore traditional names of spiritual places throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Strictly speaking, Satiacum said, they’re not asking that Mount Rainier’s name be changed, but that its real name be restored. The mountain already had a name for thousands of years when Europeans arrived, he points out.
George Vancouver was the one who changed it, he said, to honor a British military man who had never set foot on North America and, in fact, fought against Americans during their revolution.
Today’s rally is about more than just names. The real issue, Satiacum said, is American Indian pride and respect.
The audacity of European explorers who put their own names on whatever they found was a symbol of the disrespect and aggression that all but destroyed indigenous people, he said.
“You don’t just barge into somebody’s house and say, ‘This is what things are going to be called,’” he said. “They stripped our culture down to the bare metal. We need to start righting those wrongs.”
“There’s so much investment in the present name, it’s hard to think of people agreeing to change it without a lot of kicking and screaming,” he said.
“There’s a huge economic incentive in keeping the name as it is,” Findlay said. “Think of all the signs, the maps, the businesses.”
Aside from economics, there’s the emotional attachment, he said.
“It’s not only Mount Rainier National Park, it’s Rainier Beer. It’s on our license plates.”
For the mountain’s name to be officially changed, it must be approved by the Washington State Board on Geographic Names, which works in cooperation with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. The state board relies heavily on community input. When controversy arises, the board tends to stay with the status quo.
The Mt. Rainier case is similar to the Mt. McKinley case in Alaska. I believe people got the name of Mount McKinley National Park changed to Denali National Park, but I believe the mountain is still officially Mt. McKinley.
Naturally, more people are more invested in the name "Mt. Rainier" than "Mt. McKinley," which is why I wouldn't count on the name changing anytime soon. Activists would be lucky if they could get the name "Ti’Swaq" added in parentheses.
Mountains = mascots
When you think about it, it's kind of like a typical mascot battle. If you change the mountain's official name, people can still call it Mt. Rainier. They can still name their tourist attractions and coffee shops after it. Really, it doesn't affect anything except people's cultural perceptions and understanding.
Yet Euro-Americans will fight to the death to keep "their"
In other words, it's literally and figuratively a battle to see who will be king of the hill. Will it be white Anglo-Saxon Protestants like Rainier, the Pilgrims, and the Founding Fathers, or will everyone ("we the people") finally get an equal voice?
For more on the subject, see Restoring Traditional Indian Names, Renaming Mt. Diablo, and Renaming British Columbia.