Ozark National Forest Peak Named “Wahzhazhe Summit”
OSAGE NATION RESERVATION, Okla. (November 15, 2023) - The Osage Nation Historic Preservation Office successfully petitioned the United States Board on Geographic Names (USBGN) to apply the name “Wahzhazhe Summit” to a geographic peak located in the Osage ancestral homelands in Newton County, AR. Wahzhazhe Summit reaches an elevation of 2,561 feet in the Ozark National Forest, the highest point in the Ozark Plateau, situated in the Boston Mountains, a little more than 13 miles east of the city of Pettigrew, AR.
According to Dr. Andrea Hunter, Director of the Osage Nation Tribal Historic Preservation Office, the USBGN sends out quarterly announcements on proposed new names or changes to names of landforms and water features across the country. Dr. Hunter reviewed the proposed listings, and when she saw that a peak on the Ozark Plateau in Arkansas was on the list and someone had suggested the name “Buffalo Lookout” for the summit, she responded.
The USBGN recognizes the autonomy of tribes to determine names for geographic features located entirely on tribal trust lands. However, for features not on tribal lands, such as in this case, members of the public, organizations, and other local, state, tribal, and federal agencies may propose new names or name changes that the proponent believes will honor a specific tribe or historic Native American individual(s), or that include words from a Native American language (U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN) Policy X: Tribal Geographic Names).
“I emailed the USBGN stating that rather than naming the summit for the former name of a fire tower that was on the summit, we suggest naming it for the indigenous people who lived on the Ozark Plateau for 1,300 years before being removed, the Osage Nation,” Dr. Hunter explained. “I submitted a proposal for an alternate name, Wahzhazhe Summit.”
In response to Dr. Hunter’s proposal, the USBGN prepared a case brief and sought input from the county government, the Arkansas State Names Authority, and the U.S. Forest Service. The proponent of "Buffalo Lookout" was also asked for their opinion (only the proponent can withdraw or amend his/her application). In addition, all federally recognized tribes were also invited to comment via the quarterly review list notice. The USBGN also noted that proponents could provide support letters from local residents or local historical societies. Therefore, Dr. Hunter requested a support letter from Dr. Caven Clark, a former archaeologist at Buffalo National River in northern Arkansas, who began partnering with the Osage Nation in 2004.
“The ‘giving’ of this name reasserts the covenant between the Osage people and this living and dynamic landform as a symbolic reference point to a unique past and a shared future,” Dr. Clark wrote.
The name Wahzhazhe Summit has been added to the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) (https://www.usgs.gov/tools/geographic-names-information-system-gnis). The GNIS is the federal and national standard for geographic nomenclature. The U.S. Geological Survey's National Geospatial Program developed the GNIS in support of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names as the official repository of domestic geographic names data, the official vehicle for geographic names used by all departments of the federal government, and the source for applying geographic names to federal electronic and printed products.
“The Osage Nation Historic Preservation Office works tirelessly to protect our ancestral lands across 16 states,” Dr. Hunter said. “The history of our Nation and our footprint on the landscape is generally not known by the public at large. When I see an opportunity where we can assist in educating the public about our ancestral lands, I take it. I couldn’t have been happier with our success.”