President Obama’s decision to return the name Denali to what was Mount McKinley is an important historical event. The names we apply to our landscape reveal a social and cultural awareness of native people and cultures that is superficial and patronizing. Native people publicly use names created by Anglos (Coeur d’Alene, Nez Perce, Shoshone, Bannock, Kootenai and Paiute) while their indigenous terms for themselves (Schitsu’umsch, Ne-Mi-Poo, Sosoni or Tekka, Kootnai and Newe/Neme) continue privately. Native writer Gerald Vizenor in “Fugitive Poses” makes a distinction between “Indianness” and what he calls the “transmotion” of native life. Indianness, is the view of native people as historical and romanticized symbols of conquest. Transmotion embraces the active beliefs and practices of native cultures. The city of Coeur d’Alene, for example, might be called “ntc’Emqa’i ngwa” (literally “head” village in Teit/Niccodemus) in Schitsu’umsch; and Boise could be “so-ho-a’gai-deka” in Shoshone (literally “the people from the valley” in Edmo). I doubt that these names will be restored, but we need to know they exist. We could also begin by removing the epithet “squaw,” from Idaho place names and completing the removal of “Indianness” in the form of stereotypical sports mascots. Maps lie. Idaho is native country.
Robert S. McCarl, Boise