CHEYENNE — Two tribes plan to demonstrate in favor of renaming a valley and a mountain in Yellowstone National Park, places they say are associated with one man who advocated slaughter of Native Americans and another who carried it out.
Leaders of the Blackfoot Confederacy and Great Sioux Nation will gather Saturday at Yellowstone’s North Entrance near Gardiner, Montana, tribal officials said Tuesday.
The tribes seek to change the name of Hayden Valley, a subalpine valley just north of Yellowstone Lake, to Buffalo Nations Valley. They want to change the name of Mount Doane, a 10,550-foot (3,216-meter) peak five miles east of the lake, to First People’s Mountain.
Efforts to change place names and remove monuments to controversial figures in U.S. history have gained momentum since white supremacists opposed to taking down a statute of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee clashed in August with counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.
But several Native American renaming efforts — some simply to erase racist terminology from maps — have been going on for years. Elsewhere in Wyoming, tribes seek to change Devils Tower, the name of an 870-foot (265-meter) volcanic mesa in the first U.S. national monument, to Bear Lodge.
Devils Tower is the name white settlers gave the feature. Bear Lodge is what the Lakota, Crow, Cheyenne and other tribes call the formation important if not sacred to their cultures.
In Yellowstone, Hayden Valley is named for Ferdinand Hayden, a geologist whose explorations inspired the park’s establishment in 1872 but who also called for exterminating American Indians who wouldn’t acquiesce to becoming farmers and ranchers.
Mount Doane is named after U.S. Army Lt. Gustavus Doane, who took part in killing 173 noncombatant Indians — women, children and elderly men — in Montana in 1870.
“America’s first national park should no longer have features named after the proponents and exponents of genocide,” the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, which represents every tribe in Montana and Wyoming, stated in a 2014 resolution.
The tribes asked Yellowstone last year to rename Hayden Valley and Mount Doane. Park officials responded by explaining the renaming process overseen by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Board on Geographic Names, park Superintendent Dan Wenk said.
“The National Park Service understands that this is an important and sensitive issue,” Wenk said in a statement Tuesday. “We look forward to continuing this conversation.”
The Park Service has a responsibility to take up the matter with the board on the tribes’ behalf, said Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Chairman Brandon Sazue.
“We are not individuals, we are sovereign nations, many with treaty rights to this region, and those treaties are enshrined in Article VI of the U.S. Constitution,” Sazue said by email.
The Board on Geographic Names has received several emails on the issue but no official proposal to change the names of Hayden Valley or Doane Mountain, Geological Survey officials said.
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