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‘Swastika Mountain’ in Oregon gets a new name

A small peak with a controversial name in western Oregon has been renamed, thanks to an effort from residents.

Swastika Mountain, located in Oregon's Umpqua National Forest, has been renamed Mount Halo, according to NPR.

The US Board of Geographic Names approved the change on 13 April. The new name pays tribute to the Yoncalla Kalapuya tribe's Chief Halito.

The 4,200 foot mountain is not well known — though it made headlines after two teens went missing on the mountain and were later rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter in 2022 — but its name's ability to invoke darker parts of world history prompted some residents to call for a change.

Joyce McClain, 81, began a petition in 2022 to have the peak renamed. She reached out to the Oregon Historical Society and its Oregon Geographic Names Board to request the mountain be renamed to Umpqua Mountain. Ms McClain eventually learned that Mount Halo had also been proposed and liked the name, so she withdrew her submission.

Despite the connection between the swastika symbol and the Nazis, the mountain's name was not referencing Adolf Hitler's political party. Kerry Tymchuk, the executive secretary at Oregon's historical society, told NPR that the mountain was actually named after a now-defunct town of the same name that sat near the mountain. The town existed in the early 1900's — when the mountain was named — which predates the existence of the Nazi party.

The swastika was not always associated with the Nazis. The symbol has been in use for more than 7,000 years, according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and originally communicated "good fortune." The Nazis stole the symbol and turned it on an angle to create the party's icon.

The Oregon Geographic Names Board held a vote during a meeting in December and chose to rename the mountain in a 19-3 decision.

The US Board of Geographic Names approved the name change in mid-April.

Ms McClain said she knew the mountain was not named for the Nazi party, and noted that some individuals are resistant to renaming landmarks, but she nonetheless felt the name was no longer appropriate and warranted a change.

She said she was happy with the developments.

"I was glad I could do this," McClain told NPR. "One person can really make a difference. People don't think so, but this proves that one person can, no matter who they are."

The mountain's name change comes amid a broader push at the federal level to rename landmarks on federally managed land that include racists or otherwise offensive words.

The most substantial of those sites being renamed are those the numerous landmarks that include the word "squaw" — a slur referencing indigenous women — in their names.

More than 660 landmarks across the US have been renamed as a part of the effort, according to Smithsonian Magazine.