Changing the name of Mount Rainier? The new effort from Washington tribes

The Puyallup Tribe is launching a new effort to rename Mount Rainier and give it back its original name — Mount Tacoma, or Mount Tahoma. In the Native language Twulshootseed, the mountain is called təqʷuʔməʔ — pronounced “Taquoma.”

The tribe stated restoring the mountain’s original name would right a historical wrong. Now it is calling on all tribes in Washington state to make the change happen.

“Təqʷuʔməʔ means the mother of all waters in one translation,” said Brandon Reynon, the historic preservation officer for the Puyallup Tribe.

She is a mountain central to the culture of many tribes around the Sound.

“Fish, berries, trees. All the water that supports life comes from the mountain,” Reynon said. “She is important for us because she gives us life,” he said.

The Puyallup people called her “təqʷuʔməʔ” for many, many generations before settlers arrived.

Then in April 1792, European explorers arrived.

British explorer Captain George Vancouver is the first known European to see the mountain while on a mapping expedition.

“He just starts naming everything. Arbitrarily,” Reynon said. “He sees the mountain and decides to name it after his best friend Peter Rainier,” he said.

Peter Rainier was an admiral in the British navy, who battled against the United States in the Revolutionary War.

“Never once saying, ‘Hey, you people have lived here for thousands of years. What do you call this?’ It was never even a concept. And it just shows the lack of respect we people got,” Reynon said.

For the Puyallup people, the name “Rainier” casts a shadow over the mountain’s beauty.

“You have a constant reminder. Nope, that’s not Mount təqʷuʔməʔ. You can’t call it your native name. You have to call it Rainier. It’s always a constant reminder of the trauma that we’ve gone through,” Reynon said.

Now Reynon said the tribe is leading a new effort to restore the mountain’s original name.

“The timing is starting to feel right,” he said.

There have been past efforts to rename the mountain.

“The spirit of progress, the spirit of moving forward with this, just wasn’t there. Then as this last six months has evolved into what it is, we could start feeling the urge,” Reynon said. “A lot of things that we do in our native culture — our ancestors and the spirit of what we’re doing — drives us in that decision-making,” he said.

He knows the path won’t be easy.

“There is always going to be resistance, no matter what,” Reynon said.

“I get their point, just, I just don’t see changing it. And it would cost, I think, a lot of money to change all that stuff out. Not to mention the meaning we all have of it as Mount Rainier,” said Marie Smail, a Covington resident.

But there is also a lot of support.

“Absolutely, let’s do it,” said Janice Burris, who lives in Seattle. “I think it’s awesome. We are moving in that direction,” said David Burris, her husband.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s known as Mount Rainier, but you don’t see enough of the original name,” said Anthony Harris, another Seattle resident.

Here’s what’s being worked on now. Reynon said while the Puyallup Tribe and most tribes around the Sound call the mountain “təqʷuʔməʔ” (again, pronounced “Taquoma”), most tribes near Yakima pronounce the word “Tahoma.”

The tribes are now working together to make one recommendation to the public and lawmakers on the future name of Mount Rainier.

Renaming a mountain has been done before. Alaska successfully renamed Mount McKinley to Mount Denali in 2015. That effort took 40 years.

Reynon believes changing Mount Rainier’s name will go much faster.

“I think the time has come where people are starting to open their eyes to be open to renaming, reclaiming the original names,” Reynon said.

The move will need to be approved by the U.S. Board of Geographical Names and Congress.

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland also plays a role. Haaland is the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history.

It all brings renewed hope this latest effort to rename the mountain will prevail.

“We’ve endured so many atrocities to our people. Yet we’re resilient. We are still here. We are still telling our story,” Reynon said. “In order to really show that respect to that icon, you want to call it by what it should be called. Rightfully called. That’s why we’re fighting for təqʷuʔməʔ,” he said.

**NOTE: According to Reynon, the English translation of təqʷuʔməʔ is “Tacoma.” Because Twulshootseed is originally a spoken language, the word “təqʷuʔməʔ” is already written out using phonetics. The language department wants to avoid further anglicizing the language by having “Taquoma” in print. KIRO 7 included a few instances of that to ensure clarity in this article. The final proposal on how təqʷuʔməʔ will be incorporated into the proposed name change is still being discussed.