May 29, 2010

Renaming Mt. Rainier

1000 Drums calling to restore ancestral names

‘Ti’Swaq’:  Puyallup leader eyes Mount Rainier, other Northwest landmarks

By Rob CarsonHaving a truly righteous idea, Robert Satiacum says, is like a warm shower.

“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.
And:In addition to the drummers, he said, a dozen other musical groups and Native American speakers have signed on to lend their support, including Nisqually elder Billy Frank Jr., actor and Indian activist John Trudell, singers Pura Fe and Star Nayea, and the Quilleute Mask Dancers.

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.”
Why it probably won't happen:University of Washington historian John Findlay, who specializes in Pacific Northwest history, says changing the mountain’s name would be almost unimaginably difficult.

“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.
Comment:  You can add geographic names to the long list of examples of white privilege in America. Euro-Americans have renamed places with names they're comfortable with. Natives get white supremacy thrust in their faces every day while their history and culture is erased.

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" mascot mountain. They know what the fight is really about. Will Euro-Americans retain their place on top of society, where they can control America's politics and culture? Or will they have to share the power with the people they conquered?

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.


Rob said...

Anonymous wrote:

Yeah, but who can pronounce Qalaalit Nunaat? Granted, most people say "Greenland" wrong anyway. Alaskans have always called Mt. McKinley Denali. I could go on.

Indigenous names have more poetry to them, though. That's why rivers like Mississippi.

Rob said...

For more on the subject, see:

Is it time to rename Mount Rainier to its former native name?

Mount Rainier was once known by its many native names. Now, an alliance of tribal members is moving forward with a proposal to restore an original name to this Northwest landmark. But a long bureaucratic process lies ahead.

British explorers named Mount Rainier for a Navy captain who fought to put down the American Revolution. Puyallup tribal member Robert Satiacum says what he's proposing is not a name change so much as a restoration.

"When they showed up here it got changed. They changed it. That's part of the process I think when you conquer," Satiacum says.

The question then becomes which original name to use.

"Tahoma, Tacobeh, Pooskaus, Tacoma ... There are all these different names," he says.