(Reuters) Spiritual leaders of the Sioux and more than a dozen Native American tribes want U.S. officials to rename Devils Tower, an iconic rock formation and national monument in Wyoming that has religious and cultural importance to the tribes.
Chief Arvol Looking Horse, spiritual leader of the Great Sioux Nation and the head of the effort, said the name is offensive and suggests that Indian religious rituals practiced for centuries at the striking 900-foot (274-meter) tower in the Black Hills were forms of devil worship.
In 1906, when the formation became the first in the country to be designated as a national monument, its name was based on a mistranslation of its Indian title, according to the National Park Service.
An interpreter with an 1875 expedition by a U.S. Army colonel told him the term meant “Bad God’s Tower,” later shortened to Devils Tower.
In letters to President Barack Obama and the U.S. board on Geographic Names, Looking Horse has asked that it be renamed Bear Lodge, after the title of a nearby national forest.
Wyoming politicians have opposed that request. Last week, the state’s congressional delegation floated a bill that would block a name change. Tourism officials say Devils Tower is important to Wyoming’s branding campaigns.
“We’ve worked very hard to make sure some of the state’s assets are easily recognizable to both domestic and international audiences,” said Chris Mickey, spokesman for the Wyoming Office of Tourism.
The U.S. panel that oversees place names had planned to consider Looking Horse’s request next year, but that is on hold while the federal legislation prohibiting a name change is pending.
Obama last month restored the original name “Denali,” which means “the High One” and was long used by Alaska natives, to Mount McKinley in Alaska, North America’s tallest mountain.
Looking Horse said he hopes Obama will issue an executive order renaming the tower in Wyoming, restoring dignity and honor to an area the tribes consider a sacred place of power.
A spokesman for Obama did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Daniel Wallis and David Gregorio