Taking Steps to Recognize Indigenous Peoples

Let’s Start with Names

Seek-Seek-Qua by C. Coleman Emery

When I returned home from a September camping trip, I opened my book (Night of the Living Rez) and found a plastic knife holding my place.

I had used the knife as a bookmark while reading during a rainstorm in a cabin in the woods.

We rented a two-room shack at Lake Olallie Resort, which is sequestered in what is now called the Mount Hood National Recreational Area, surrounded by firs, cedars and pines, and, of course, a lake.

We brought plasticware as well as silverware, and we tucked away bowls and plates along with a stovetop espresso maker.

We added headlamps, a chef’s knife, napkins, matches and books.

And the dog.

We typically pack light, but, having the car, we loaded up more than we needed.

We had no electricity and no internet.

Turns out the cabins had beds with mattresses (we brought sleeping bags and pillows), a wood-burning stove, table, chairs, and shelves with counter space.

Our friends—who stayed in another cabin—left their camp stove in our hut: a sign of real friendship.

We drank our coffee hot while they sipped cold brew.

I was delighted to find a kerosene lamp in the cabin.

The last time I saw one was in the 1970s, when such lamps were fashioned from blown glass for the hippie-class.

Folks would smoke pot around the glow of the lamp, which—today—has gone the way of soybean casseroles and waterbeds (the lamps, not the pot).

At the cabin, we got water at a spigot outside (the water tasted good) and we’d fill the tea kettle and settle it on the warm stove all day—for washing, bathing and making tea.

Our stay let us unplug and relax.

Whose Viewpoint?

We discovered our cabin has a name: Mount Jefferson’s View.

Although we couldn’t make out the view until our last day, the clouds finally cleared and we could see the mountain.

Our companions told us the mountain—like Wy’east (Mount Hood)—is a volcano, which explains the rocks I purloined while walking around the lake.

In addition to finding skipping stones, I discovered igneous rock with its tale-tell holes made by cooling lava.

I wondered what the peak meant to Native peoples in the area.

Without internet I had to wait until we returned home to learn that the area had been assailed by explorers who re-named everything.

Wy’east became “Mount Hood” and Seek-Seek-Qua became “Mount Jefferson.”

Some internet sites refer to the pre-explorer monikers as “Native American.”

But I learned the mountains had several names that reflected the assortment of people (and their languages) Indigenous to this part of the Pacific Northwest, homelands to:

Molalas, Kalapuyans, Chinookan Clackamas, Shinookan Wascos, Northern Paiute peoples, and Sahaptin speakers [who] all lived within the area…

…until they were forcibly removed.

Wy’east—a name offered by the Multnomah—has gained currency, according to the Cascadia Department of Bioregion, a Washington-based non-profit organization.

Another source reports the Molalla people called the mountain Nífti Yángint—Big Mountain.

Wy’east came to be renamed for a British naval officer who never saw the mountain.

A lieutenant who was part of the Vancouver Expedition in the late 1700s renamed Wy’east to honor a British Admiral, Lord Samuel Hood.

The Vancouver Expedition assumed the task of place-naming in a region occupied for thousands of years by Native peoples.

As a result, many Indigenous villages, communities and unceded territories were named after George Vancouver, the leader of the voyage.

Spurred on by hubris, the explorers permanently inked names on maps: an island and major city in British Columbia and a seaport in the State of Washington are all named for Vancouver.

And Vancouver claimed much of the territory (without permission from the Native peoples) for the British Crown.

He also re-named ancestral volcanoes: one for Baron St. Helens (the British diplomat Alleyne Fitzherbert); and one for the tallest peak in Washington for a rear admiral, Peter Rainier.

But I learned that Seek-Seek-Qua was named Mount Jefferson by Meriwether Lewis.

Lewis and [William] Clark’s journey to Oregon (1804-1806) was funded by Thomas Jefferson once he became president of the United States.

Jefferson was eager to lay claim to the Western territories, and

[W]orried that other nations might control the vast Trans-Mississippi region and compromise U.S. political and economic security. He had long feared that Great Britain would try to colonize the Pacific Northwest

According to the website Biography:

Jefferson asked Lewis to gather information about the plants, animals and Indigenous peoples of the region. Lewis jumped at the chance and selected his old Army friend Clark to join him as co-commander of the expedition

Like the explorer Vancouver, Lewis and Clark re-named countless landmarks on their journey.

Olallie Lake

Back at Olallie Lake, I find Seek-Seek-Qua surrounded by an intense azure sky once the weather clears.

White swaths of snow layer the volcano, which last erupted about 1000 years ago.

Seek-Seek-Qua is about 3,199 meters: about the height of nearly ten Eiffel Towers stacked on top of one another.

The view is unforgettable.

I would like the name of the cabin changed to “A View of Seek-Seek-Qua” and I would really like to see the name of Mount Jefferson changed.

As we approach the month of November, the United States celebrates Native American Heritage Month.

The official website notes that government agencies “join in paying tribute to the rich ancestry and traditions of Native Americans.”

Perhaps we can start by asking Native communities to help such institutions find names that honor Indigenous ancestry and traditions.

Let’s start with the names.

Artwork of Seek-Seek-Qua © Cynthia Coleman Emery

25 October 2022

I honor the Native Peoples on whose ancestral homelands we gather here in the Pacific Northwest



























About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
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2 Responses to Taking Steps to Recognize Indigenous Peoples

  1. Cynthia, as I approach my 75th birthday I notice that some events, like the Lewis and Clarke expedition, just make me sad. Neoliberalism just seems like more westward expansion, that ravenous appetite threatening to consume the world and much that I love. Given the longish arc of my life I have felt hopeful about our gains but now wonder whether the trajectory of greed will just crush everything. All that said, this was a lovely piece of writing.


  2. Thank you: some days it is hard to stay positive, isn’t it? I take solace that my neighborhood and friends don’t reflect what I see in the New York Times.


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