From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters, Americans are proud of the natural beauty found in this country. But many of the names popular landmarks have today are not their first monikers.
As Cameron Fenton for Outside reports, the project started a few months ago with an instagram post. Len Necefer, a member of the Navajo Nation and founder of Natives Outdoors, a purveyor of outdoor activewear and gear designed by indigenous people that also supports diversity in the outdoor industry and projects run by Native people, organizations and tribe, uploaded a photo on the company’s Instagram account of the Longs Peak, a well-known mountain in Colorado. But instead of the geotagging it “Longs Peak,” he gave it the Arapaho name: ”Neníisótoyóú’u.”
Facebook’s check-in feature allows users to create and name new locations. The social networking site’s 2012 acquisition of Instagram means that its geotags also transfer to the photo-sharing platform. Necefer tells Outside that he was inspired to create indigenous geotags after summiting four mountains sacred to the Navajo Nation. “I wanted to share the photos and thought I would love to share them with the indigenous place names,” he says. “When I couldn’t find them, I decided to create them.”
Since then, Necefer has created about 40 place names for mountains in Colorado and nearby. His work has already inspired another Instagram account, @IndigenousGeotags, run by Joseph Whitson, a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota who is not Native. “Remember that public land is Native Land,” the account’s summary urges.
Beyond the realm of social media, efforts like the official renaming of Denali are also working to bring awareness of indigenous place names in the U.S. And of course many names don’t need to be changed to remind people of the history of indigenous people in the Americas. All that is needed is recognition that many place names familiar to the average person are in fact indigenous names. As Doug Herman reported for Smithsonian magazine in 2015, Massachusetts is Algonquin for “Great Hill,” Chicago means “Wild Garlic” in the language of the Miami people, who are indigenous to the Great Lakes. In Canada, nearly 30,000 official place names have roots in indigenous names, according to the country’s Department of Nature Resources.
Recognizing and restoring indigenous names can be an important way to revitalize language, culture and history. During a 2015 conversation with Asaf Shalev of Anchorage Daily News, Aaron Leggett a Dena’ina historian says the efforts all boil down to awareness. The names, he tells Shalev, “remind people that not long ago, Anchorage was a Dena’ina fish camp and that the Dena’ina people are still here.”
Delegation of North American Indigenous Leaders and Activists Visit Sacred Headwaters
Press conference with members of the delegation in Quito, Ecuador.
In late February, Pachamama Alliance Co-founder Bill Twist joined with a delegation of indigenous leaders and environmental activists from Canada and the United States to travel to Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest region. The delegation was organized by Pachamama Alliance and Amazon Watch to bring this delegation’s experience and ideas and possible partnership to the Amazon Sacred Headwaters Project.
The Sacred Headwaters Project’s goal is to secure permanent protection of the headwaters region of the Amazon river-basin, approximately 60 million acres in Ecuador and Peru. The project is coordinated by Pachamama Alliance, Amazon Watch, and CONFENIAE, the governing federation for Ecuador’s Amazonian indigenous people.
The delegation spent five days visiting the indigenous communities of the Sacred Headwaters region, seeing both areas damaged by oil development and pristine primary rainforests where the communities are fiercely committed to preventing any incursions of oil or other extractive activities.
The delegation members represented many years of experience in successfully securing protection for the Great Bear Rainforest in Canada, nearly 20 million acres of temperate rainforest on the Pacific Coast of British Columbia. And so, in addition to cultural exchanges, there were many conversations—through extended three-language, back-and-forth translations—about the shared challenges indigenous people face in the North and the South, about the Eagle and Condor prophecy, and the importance of building North-South alliances among indigenous peoples.
The indigenous communities in Ecuador have been actively challenging the Ecuadorian government’s proposed oil and mining activities in indigenous territories. The presence of the delegation and the emergence of a North-South alliance was an opportunity to demonstrate to the government the international visibility and importance of protecting the Sacred Headwaters region. To that end, the trip concluded with a press conference in Quito, Ecuador’s capital city, that attracted the country’s main television and newspaper organizations and provided wide coverage to the general public.
Overall the trip was very successful and involved a whirlwind of activities—flights into the forest in small planes, river rides in motorized canoes, hikes in the forest, and many hours of conversation supplemented with ample amounts of a fermented manioc drink, chicha—the local beverage of choice. As a next step to the trip, the delegation is now exploring further forms of collaboration with the Sacred Headwaters Project—recruiting additional partners, researching ideas and innovations for protection, and raising long-term funding. We will keep you posted.