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Eastern Band of Cherokee takes another step toward renaming Clingmans Dome

Mary Crowe and Lavita Hill pose with the tribal council resolution at the Eastern Band of Cherokee council house.
Courtesy of Principal Chief Michell Hicks Facebook
Mary Crowe and Lavita Hill pose with the tribal council resolution at the Eastern Band of Cherokee council house.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Tribal Council has taken the next step toward renaming Clingmans Dome, the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, to its traditional Cherokee name: Kuwohi, which translates to “the Mulberry Place.”

“More awareness and education of the Cherokee people and our history has increased as tourists aren’t visiting Clingmans Dome; they’re visiting the ancestral homelands of the Cherokee,” Principal Chief Michell Hicks said on Facebook.

“The passing of this resolution is a major step forward in achieving this goal,” Hicks added.

Tribal Council unanimously voted on January 4 to authorize the submission of an application to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to restore the name, “Kuwohi,” in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

In 2022, Eastern Band members Mary Crowe and Lavita Hill began their campaign for the renaming. Crowe explained that the mountain is a part of traditional Cherokee stories that need to be preserved.

“We see this as an avenue for our younger generation to relearn who we are as a people, that creator placed us here,” Crowe told council in 2022.

The resolution passed by tribal council states that Kuwohi “is the highest and most visible point in our area, and has special significance to us as Cherokee people, as it was visited by medicine people who prayed and sought guidance from the Creator regarding important matters facing our people, and then returned to our towns to give guidance and advice.”

Crow explained that keeping these stories alive will help preserve the Cherokee language and traditions. In 2019, there were only about 200 fluent Cherokee speakers, prompting the three Cherokee tribes to declare a state of emergency for the language.

“We heard these stories - I’m trying not to cry – but boarding school took a lot of it away from us. My dad was a fluent speaker. That’s why I can listen and keep up with him but I have that solid conversation with him,” Crowe told council.

Many Cherokee elders who were fluent speakers have passed away since 2019, including JC Wachacha, who spoke to BPR for this 2019 story on language preservation. When the Cherokee Language specialist passed away in November 2023 the New Kituwah Academy closed for the day to attend services in his honor.

The resolution also explained the outpouring of local support for the name. Resolutions supporting the change were passed by Buncombe, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain, Graham, Clay and Cherokee counties as well as the towns of Asheville, Andrews, Murphy, Hayesville, Fontana Dam, Lake Santeetlah, Robbinsville, Canton, Clyde, Maggie Valley, Waynesville, Dillsboro, Sylva, Webster, Franklin, Highlands and Bryson City.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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