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Tuesday, December 5, 2023
Dec. 5, 2023

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Mount St. Helens’ name appears safe

U.S. unlikely to adopt Lawetlat'la, used by Cowlitz Tribe, as official name

By , Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter

Some call her Lawetlat’la, a Cowlitz name that translates to “The Smoker.” Others might use Loowit.

You know her better as Mount St. Helens, a name the volcano has held for more than 200 years. That’s not likely to change any time soon.

President Barack Obama announced last week that Alaska’s Mount McKinley would be renamed Denali — the traditional name already used by many people. The change made national headlines, and sparked conversations about some the Northwest’s most famous peaks.

Will Mount St. Helens revert back to its traditional name? Probably not.

“I’m not aware of any formal effort to move to rename the mountain,” said Nathan Reynolds, an ecologist with the Cowlitz Indian Tribe.

As for the name Lawetlat’la, Reynolds said: “Among the tribal community, it’s already in use.”

Mount St. Helens is named for Alleyne Fitzherbert, who held the title Baron St. Helens and was a British ambassador to Spain. The name was given in the late 1700s by British explorer George Vancouver. (At least he didn’t call it Mount Fitzherbert.)

Captain Vancouver also named three other Northwest mountains — Hood, Rainier and Baker — after British naval officers. Each peak has a traditional name long used by Native tribes in the region, even if they’re not commonly known today. Vancouver even had a peak named after him — until it was renamed Mount Jefferson by the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Those names still live on in other ways. When Mount St. Helens was designated as a Traditional Cultural Property and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013, it was listed officially as Lawetlat’la — not Mount St. Helens. The Loowit Trail encircles the mountain, and Loowit Falls is a popular destination on the volcano’s north side.

But most people don’t use the name to refer to the mountain itself.

“I think few people are aware of the name Loowit, unless you’re a local,” said Ray Yurkewycz, acting executive director the Mount St. Helens Institute.

When the nonprofit casually raised the question of whether to rename Mount St. Helens in an online post last week, it received a decidedly mixed response. The subject can be a touchy one, Yurkewycz said, and people are often resistant to change.

Loowit is generally considered a shortened version or a nickname of Lawetlat’la.

“The easy name would be Loowit,” Yurkewycz said. “The full name is harder to say.”

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