There’s nothing quite like the looming, ridged rock structure that towers in northeastern Wyoming. And with a name like Devils Tower, it’s hard to forget. But whatever you call it, the national monument is famous for its singularity – a one-of-a-kind natural wonder.
But Wyoming’s lone representative Liz Cheney has set her sights on the monument and aims to protect its name.
House Resolution 401, sponsored by Cheney, designates Devils Tower as the official name “of one of Wyoming’s most beloved and well-known landmarks.” The legislation is prompted by multiple attempts over the last decade by Native American groups to change the name of the beloved monument to reflect the cultural significance that the tower has for native people.
But proponents of securing the name argue that changing it would confuse tourists, which would then adversely affect state revenue.
But there’s no evidence to support this theory.
Take North America’s highest peak – most know it as Denali. Originally dubbed Mount McKinley, the mountain’s name has been debated for some time. The name change was controversial, to be sure, but you’d be hard-pressed today to find any Alaskan tourist unfamiliar with the peak – regardless of its name.
The name, then, holds strictly historical and cultural value.
Devils Tower has been important to Native Americans long before a poor translation of its original name earned it its current designation. Many Native American groups have claimed the name Devils Tower is offensive, because it’s a mistranslation by white settlers of the original native name for the tower, “Bad God’s Tower.”
In 2015, Chief Arvol Looking Horse, a Native American spiritual leader, asked the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to change the name of Devils Tower to Bear Lodge. Bear Lodge comes from Native American folklore about a bear clawing the sides of the tower, giving it its signature appearance.
The geological formation has a spiritual significance to native people. And if they seek to change the name of the tower, a name born out of offensive appropriation of native culture, then we should let them.
Cheney’s bill is a solution looking for a problem.
Changing the name of the tower won’t minimize its importance to Wyomingites or Americans. Rather, giving it a name that reflects its cultural importance, a name that accounts for all cultures who care about the monument, will be a better reflection of the beloved landmark’s national importance.