Yellowstone renames mountain linked to massacre of Native Americans

Yellowstone national park has renamed the peak that was once known as Mount Doane to First Peoples Mountain, in a decision to strip from the famed wildlands an “offensive name” evoking the murders of nearly 200 Native Americans, officials said.

In a 9 June announcement, National Park Service authorities also said they might weigh similar renamings in the future.

The 10,551-ft mountain had been named after Gustavus Doane, a US army captain. Doane was a “key member” of an 1870 expedition before Yellowstone became the country’s first national park, authorities said.

But earlier the same year of the expedition, Doane helmed an attack on a band of Piegan Blackfeet in retaliation for the purported murder of a white furrier. This assault, now known as the Marias Massacre, resulted in the killing of at least 173 Native Americans, authorities said.

The victims included numerous women, elders and children who contracted smallpox. “Doane wrote fondly about this attack and bragged about it for the rest of his life,” the National Park Service said.

The new First Peoples name was “based on recommendations from the Rocky Mountain Tribal Council, subsequent votes within the Wyoming Board of Geographic names, and [support] of the National Park Service,” officials added. These entities ultimately forwarded this name to the US Board on Geographic Names this month.

That board, which is responsible for maintaining uniformity in geographic name usage across the federal government, voted 15-0 to affirm the renaming, officials said. Yellowstone recently reached out to the 27 tribes associated with the park and “received no opposition to the change nor concerns”.

“Yellowstone may consider changes to other derogatory or inappropriate names in the future,” officials also said in their announcement.

This renaming comes as the US Department of the Interior ramps up efforts to rename hundreds of geographic formations deemed to be offensively titled. The interior secretary, Deb Haaland, the first Native American to hold a cabinet secretary position, issued an order in November 2021 that officially declared “squaw” to be a “derogatory” word.

Haaland’s order required that the Board of Geographic Names come up with a process to remove that word from federal use. The department, in February of this year, released a list of potential replacement names for more than 660 geographic sites which included the word.

She also issued an order that created a federal advisory committee “to broadly solicit, review, and recommend changes to other derogatory geographic and federal land unit names”.

“Words matter, particularly in our work to make our nation’s public lands and waters accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds,” Haaland said. “Consideration of these replacements is a big step forward in our efforts to remove derogatory terms whose expiration dates are long overdue.”

The renaming of geographic formations comes amid a push to remove Confederate symbols across the US in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in May 2020. More than 200 Confederate monuments and memorials have been renamed, removed, or relocated, according to the New York Times.

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