Leaders of the Eastern Band of Cherokee hope to rename a popular tourist destination in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Their proposed name — “Kuwohi” — will surely provoke another battle in today’s raging “history wars.” One can already hear the self-proclaimed guardians of our past dismissing the Cherokee petition as “woke,” and “dangerously divisive.”
But this view reflects only one side of a complicated past. For more than 600 years, the loosely-organized Cherokee peoples dominated most of today’s Appalachian region. For the next four centuries, they have struggled to maintain a presence here. Sometime in that misty past, Kuwohi (Mulberry Place) became sacred to the Cherokee. Conversely, today’s name for the highest peak in the GSMNP was adopted less than 160 years ago and celebrates a North Carolina politician of dubious distinction. As an avid explorer, Thomas Clingman may have passed by the peak that bears his name.