Before the Great Smoky Mountains National Park became a national park, it was home to the Cherokee Indians. Now many organizations work to preserve its history.
The observation tower at Clingmans Dome was built in 1959 and it offers a 360-degree view of the Smoky Mountains, but the history of this area goes back for centuries.
“We have lived in this area forever,” said Lavita Hill who is a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
She added, “Before settlers came into the area, we were already here and had been here for hundreds of years, and we were a thriving nation. We didn’t just live here. We had settlements and townships and a government and our own language.”
She explained that her ancestors were some of many who lived in the area, now known as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “My grandmother was forced to go into the boarding school and because of that, in the home, we didn’t actually talk about our language, our culture, we sort of just moved on.”
It wasn’t until she was older that her family would talk about that history, including the cultural significance of Clingmans Dome.
“In the beginning whenever people were settled here, our medicine men use to come to this area to pray, to seek guidance,” Hill said.
The peak was originally called, “Kuwahi,” and known as the mulberry place.
However, the area was renamed after Confederate General Thomas Clingman, who was said to be the first person to accurately measure the peak’s elevation.
Hill wants to try to restore the name.
She filed a resolution to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Council hoping to get their support in sending the petition to the federal government to restore the land back to the name, “Kuwahi.”
She said she wants to be the voice for her ancestors, like her grandmother, who didn’t have one. “She didn’t have a voice, and she didn’t choose to use her voice once her voice was given back to her because she was afraid for us because of what she had been through. But we’re in a time right now where we get to use our voice, we get to be empowered.”
“It’s important because wow, look at what they’ve done and if I can do this one little thing to honor them, I want to do it,” she added.
The resolution is on the Tribal Councils’ meeting agenda Thursday, July 14 at 10:50 a.m.
Watch the live stream here.