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Restoring Bear Lodge’s Sacred Name


From Religions for Peace

For the many Native Americans engaged with Religions for Peace USA through the National Congress of American Indians and other affiliations, sacred spaces and certain key geographic landmarks are essential components to their spiritual practices. They serve as places of prayer and as signs of their peoples’  identity and longevity in this country.

For these reasons and more, Religions for Peace USA is supporting Chief Arvol Looking Horse’s request with the Board of Geographic Names to formally change the name of “Devils Tower Monument” to Bear Lodge. This request holds not only importance to many Native American peoples and their communal identity, but to the communities that stand in solidarity with them in the protection of sacred spaces and religious freedom.

From “Devils Tower Monument” to “Bear Lodge.” – Photo: Wikipedia

From “Devils Tower Monument” to “Bear Lodge.” – Photo: Wikipedia

According to the National Park Service, more than twenty Native American tribes hold potential cultural affiliations to “Devils Tower,” and six tribes have geographic and historical ties to the Devils Tower area. There is a spiritual and moral imperative behind Chief Looking Horse’s request to change this monument’s name. His request is not simple perfunctory, but expresses a fundamental right for many Native American peoples across the U.S. to have their sacred sites protected and respected. For several years now, the National Parks Service has asked tourists and rock climbers to avoid the monument during the July and August months, when prayer and religious ceremonies are held. Changing the name of the monument is one step closer to honoring sites sacred to native peoples in this country.

Religious freedom is an inherent right for all people and fundamental to the democratic structure of the United States, guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and affirmed under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978. The 2007 United Nations “Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” which the U.S. government has ratified, includes the rights to practice and revitalize indigenous customs, spiritual and religious traditions, as well as the rights to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites. The United States Board on Geographic Names states that “geographic names derived from the language of Native Americans are an important and integral part of the cultural history of the United States and the board commits to consult with federally-recognized tribes having a historic or cultural affiliation with the geographic location of the feature.”

The name “Devil’s Tower” is offensive to many Native peoples who hold the land sacred – it is a mistranslation and is in conflict with historical data that establishes the accurate name to be “Bear Lodge.” The National Park Service cites four prominent Native American tribes’ names for the monument: “The Arapaho call Devils Tower ‘Bear’s Tipi’; the Cheyenne call Devils Tower ‘Bear’s Lodge,’ ‘Bear’s House,’ ‘Bear’s Tipi,’ and ‘Bear Peak’”; the Crow call Devils Tower ‘Bear Lodge,’ and the Lakota call Devils Tower ‘Bear Lodge,’ ‘Bear Lodge Butte.’”

So let this magnificent sacred land be Bear Lodge again.