No plans are in the works to rename Mount Rainier, though supporters of a name change think it would make a lot of sense.
WASHINGTON — Despite President Obama’s renaming of Alaska’s Mount McKinley, federal officials say there are no plans to rename Mount Rainier.
Obama’s move had inspired advocates in the long battle to restore the Native-American name for the state’s peak as Mount Tacoma or Tahoma. .
“It’s a much more compelling argument to rename the mountain here than in Alaska,” said Bill Baarsma, former mayor of the city of Tacoma and president of the Tacoma Historical Society. “Why are we continuing to name this mountain after a British admiral that slayed Americans in the Revolutionary War?”
Federal officials, though, say that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s order changing Mount McKinley to its Koyukon Athabascan name of Denali was unique.
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“This was maybe a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” said Lou Yost, executive secretary of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which normally approves such renaming.
A proposal to rename Mount McKinley to Denali was in front of the board for 40 years. The board didn’t take action because there was a debate in Congress, with politicians from McKinley’s home state of Ohio managing to block Alaskan efforts to change the name before Obama stepped in.
Mount Rainier is a different case, Yost said. The board has already rejected an effort to rename Mount Rainier and “the secretary and probably the president would defer to what the board has done,” he said.
Interior Secretary Jewell is no stranger to the issue. She’s from the Seattle area and has climbed Mount Rainier seven times. Jewell’s spokeswoman, Jessica Kershaw, declined to say what Jewell thinks of the name Mount Rainier but indicated that a renaming is not in the plans.
“The long and short here is that there is no current proposal to rename Mount Rainier before the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, which is the body that brings forward these recommendations to the secretary for consideration,” Kershaw said.
The board is currently considering proposals to rename Devils Tower in Wyoming to Bear Lodge and Harney Peak in South Dakota to Black Elk Peak.
Connie McCloud, the culture director for the Puyallup Tribe of Washington state, said she hopes that a new effort is launched to persuade the board to rename Mount Rainier. McCloud, who favors the name Tahoma, said the mountain is central to the culture of indigenous people.
“Our creation stories tell us of a time of great flood and that our people put their things in their canoes and we tied our canoes to the top of the mountain. And that’s how we survived that time,” she said.
McCloud said the mountain shouldn’t be named after a man who never even set foot on North American soil. “Our people have always lived here and that’s something that isn’t recognized,” she said.
British explorer George Vancouver named Mount Rainier in 1792 after a friend and fellow British naval officer who fought sea battles against the Americans.