“We’ve obviously been through a lot of heartache and hurt. What we are trying to put out there now is how Cherokee names are important, how that plays into our culture and history and keeping us alive.”- Lavita Hill, Treasury specialist for the Eastern Cherokee tribe.
Clingmans Dome is the highest peak in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, which is the most visited national park in the country. It is the tallest mountain on the Appalachian Trail and the third tallest mountain in Eastern North America. The popular mountain could also soon be changing back to its original name.
NPR reports that the Eastern Cherokee Nation is aiming to rename the mountain Kuwhai, which translates to “mulberry place.” Before the Cherokee people were forcibly removed from the land in 1838, “Tribal medicine men would journey up the mountain and pray for guidance, then share the visions they had with the rest of the community.” In 1859, Kuwhai was renamed to Clingmans Dome. This was in honor of Thomas Lanier Clingman, who was a United States Congressman in the House and Senate and eventually became a general for the Confederacy.
After the war, Clingman measured the elevation of various mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee, including Clingmans Dome. While Clingman was an important part of the history of the mountain, he didn’t live particularly close to the Great Smokey Mountains. He lived in Asheville, which was seventy-five miles away from the mountain. Without cars in the era that he lived in, this was a lot further away than it seems today. Their goal with the name change is to teach Cherokee people and Americans about Native American history.
On Thursday, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Council passed a resolution that would change the name of Clingmans Dome. The next step is to submit paperwork to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which they aim to do by the end of this year. WATE-TV spoke with Lavita Hill, who is the treasury specialist for the Eastern Cherokee tribe, on why they are seeking the name change.