On a clear, sunny day in Seattle, I get to marvel at a giant, snow-peaked mountain right in my line of sight. I know y’all (out of Seattle) believe it’s always rainy here, but Seattleites leave that story unchecked so the traffic doesn’t get worse. :) As you can see, she’s absolutely breathtaking.
Photo by Lalit Gupta via Unsplash
For the first 8.5 years I lived here–I can’t believe I moved in 2013!–I knew this majestic beauty as Mount Rainier.
Then, I read an article that described not only how Mount Rainier was the colonized name for what was traditionally named “Tahoma” in the Puyallup language of the Coast Salish people indigenous to this area, it was arrogantly renamed by George Vancouver to honor his friend. A one Mr. Rainier was an English naval officer who had never seen this mountain.
A person who hadn’t even ever seen the mountain in real life, nor visited this region had it renamed for him.
I was astounded by the hubris, the arrogance and the reminder that even 230 years since a white colonizer carelessly rewrote thousands of years of history, we are still upholding white supremacy by calling the mountain “Rainier.”
Sadly, most people still know it by its colonized name. But one way I’m practicing resistance is by saying “Mount Tahoma is out,” gently correcting others who don’t, and teaching my 6-year-old to say “Tahoma,” not “Rainier.”
Don’t applaud me for this
I’m in the very early stages of a lifelong journey to understand the extent to which white settler colonization has brutally and systematically erased Native and Indigenous history and tradition in this region. One simple, yet significant, way we can keep the original history of this nation alive is by acknowledging the traditional occupants of the land.
The closest I can come to empathizing with the “why” is reflecting on how the road I grew up on in Singapore–Mountbatten Road–was named after the English man who ripped my ancestors’ country in two–the Partition of India and Pakistan.
It’s still called by his name.
Names matter. History matters.
Whose histories we remember by keeping their names alive matters.
Sadly, what links so many people of color around the world is our shared history of being colonized, enslaved and the present experiences of being non-white in a global system of oppression. How do we even get to right hundreds of years of historical wrongs as leaders?
By acknowledging that there was a story, a history and a culture that predates us. By learning. By paying rent to Native and Indigenous tribes. By continuing to learn from people who are Native and Indigenous to this land and boldly acknowledge what was stolen and lost by white settler colonization.
A Land Acknowledgment To Remember
In March, I attended an internal D&I Summit of over 2,000 attendees in Canada. The CEO of this large organization, a man of color who was once a refugee to the country he was now at the helm of one of the premier institutions of, sat in the front row.
And the Summit kicked off with a detailed acknowledgment that the land we were on was not ours. The speaker who made this acknowledgment was a Native woman. She beautifully and humbly recognized that the land we were on that day traditionally belonged to many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples and is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. She also reminded us that we were guests on the land and our role was to protect and honor it.
I had tears in my eyes, reflecting on how quickly thousands of years of history is routinely erased, the painful reminder of all that’s stolen in plain sight. The comprehensive land acknowledgment set a powerful stage for the rest of the Summit, humbling us with gratitude and setting us up to be intentional with the power that came with being up on stage.
I’m learning that land acknowledgments are necessary and should be the norm, not the exception.
If land acknowledgments are new to you––as they were for me––there may be a period of discomfort, shame, questioning and/or defensiveness. We must push past it and learn from those leading this work who are from Native and Indigenous communities. Here’s a fantastic primer I’ve learned from on how to make a meaningful land acknowledgment from, by Sicangu CDC.
In my awareness-building and education on Native and Indigenous rights, I’ve come across some devastating facts on disparities in healthcare, economic security, children’s and women’s rights and safety and more faced by communities that were brutally oppressed by white colonization. The past traumas continue to inform the present realities of so many Native and Indigenous communities.
We have so much work to do to even think of reaching a just and equitable reality.
We should never forget all that was stolen and lost to get us to where we are today. Another way we can materially contribute is by donating to organizations dedicated to serving Native and Indigenous people. Two organizations that have long served Indigenous people is Chief Seattle Club and the Native American Rights Fund.
I live in Seattle, land that has been stewarded by the Salish and Coastal Salish Peoples—the first peoples of what is now called Washington State. The land I live on is traditionally home to the Duwamish Tribe, the Muckleshoot Tribe, the Spokane Tribe, and the Yakama Nation. I try to remember this every day, especially when I see Mount Tahoma in the distance on a twinkling, sunny day.
Devastatingly, Mount Tahoma has not been officially recognized by its original, non-colonial name, despite ongoing efforts from Puyallup and other tribes.
We have a real opportunity to right a historical wrong and I will do everything I can on my part to advocate for it. If you have any leads on organizations working to restore our mountain’s original name, please let me know!
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