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On Supporting a formal request to Change Devils Tower to Bear Lodge
For the many Native Americans who are engaged with Religions for Peace USA through the National Congress of American Indians and other affiliations, sacred spaces and certain key geographic landmarks are essential components to their spiritual practices. They serve as places of prayer and as signs of their peoples’ identity and their longevity in this country. For these reasons, Chief Arvol Looking Horse’s request with the Board of Geographic Names holds not only importance to many Native American peoples’ and their communal identity, but to the communities that stand in solidarity with them in the protection of sacred spaces and religious freedom. According to the National Park Service over twenty Native American tribes hold potential cultural affiliations to “Devils Tower,” and six tribes have geographic and historical ties to the Devils Tower area. [i] There is a spiritual and moral imperative behind Chief Looking Horse’s request to change this monument’s name.
Religious freedom is an inherent right for all people, and fundamental to the democratic structure of the United States, guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and affirmed under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978.[ii] The 2007 United Nations “Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” which the U.S. government has ratified, includes the rights to practice and revitalize indigenous customs, spiritual and religious traditions, as well as the rights to maintain, protect and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites.[iii] The United States Board on Geographic Names states that “geographic names derived from the language of Native Americans are an important and integral part of the cultural history of the United States and commits to consult with federally-recognized tribes having a historic or cultural affiliation with the geographic location of the feature.”[iv]
The name “Devil’s Tower,” is offensive to many Native people’s who hold the land sacred – it is a mistranslation and is in conflict with historical data that evidences the accurate name to be “Bear Lodge.”[v] The National Park Service cites four prominent Native American tribes’ names for the monument: “The Arapaho call Devils Tower “Bear’s Tipi;” “The Cheyenne call Devils Tower ‘Bear’s Lodge,’ ‘Bear’s House,’ ‘Bear’s Tipi,’ and ‘Bear Peak;’” “The Crow call Devils Tower ‘Bear Lodge,’” and “The Lakota call Devils Tower ‘Bear Lodge,’ ‘Bear Lodge Butte.’”[vi]
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[i] Hanson, J. R. and S. Chirinos. 1991. “Ethnographic Overview and Assessment of Devils Tower National Monument.” University of Texas, Arlington.
[ii] American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) Public Law No. 95-341, 92 Stat. 469 (Aug. 11, 1978) www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/STATUTE-92/pdf/STATUTE-92-Pg469.pdf
[iii] United Nations www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf ( Article 10, 11)
[v] Mato Tipila in Lakota (pronounced Matȟó Thípila) literally means “Bear Tipi” or “Bear House” or “Bear Lodge” Library of Congress (1887) John Grabill photo www.loc.gov/pictures/item/996123924 with the words “Bear Lodge (Mato Tepee) of the Indians” inscribed by Grabill on the photograph.
[vi] National Park Service “How is Devils Tower a Sacred Site to American Indians,” http://www.nps.gov/deto/historyculture/sacredsite.htm