JUL 09, 2018 11:08 AM PDT

What's in a name: Yellowstone's renaming

The Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association is intent on change. Made up of tribal chairmen from 16 Sioux tribes in Nebraska and the Dakotas, the group is petitioning The US Board on Geographic Names to change the names of two historic sites in Yellowstone: Mount Doane and Hayden Valley. The group wants Mount Doane to be renamed to First Peoples Mountain and Hayden Valley changed to Buffalo Nations Valley.

Rising 10,500 feet tall in Yellowstone, Mount Doane was named for Lt. Gustavus C. Doane. Doane was a US army cavalry captain and explorer; he was also a murderer. As the Guardian reports, “In January 1870, he led a massacre that killed around 175 Blackfeet people, and he continued to brag about the incident throughout his life.” Hayden Valley’s namesake was not much better. Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden was a geologist and surveyor who promoted the annihilation of native peoples. Not the most peaceful memory for such a beautiful landscape.

Overlooking Hayden Valley with a herd of bison. Photo: Jeff Vanuga via Yellowstone National Park

The Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association thinks that commemorating these men for their actions, on first-peoples’ land no less, is unacceptable. “We’re not against certain names,” commented executive director of the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, William Snell. “But we’re not for names where individuals have been involved with genocide, where elders and children have been killed and there have been some traumatic events in our history that don’t meet standards of honor.”

The name change has already lost to one vote in the beginning of May. Local country representatives have voiced public concern over the idea, and The US Board on Geographic Names has yet to actually determine a time to consider the topic.

But there are other ways. Founder Len Necefer of NativesOutdoors is going around all the bureaucratic red tape involved in renaming. He and his organization use original tribal names in their Instagram geotags, thus spreading the word and habit. That’s because the importance of naming is crucial in understanding the history between Native Americans and the United States.

“The creation of the first national parks, like Yellowstone and Glacier, was predicated on the forced removal of indigenous populations from these areas,” Necefer told Outside Online. “It created this myth that these are untouched wilderness areas.” When, in fact, these lands were very much lived in and on before Hayden or Doane even knew they existed.

Sources: The Guardian

About the Author
BA Environmental Studies
Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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