Adirondack is a name that is known to many, yet understood by few. How the mountains earned their name may surprise you..
The Answer: Racism.
As mentioned in the overview, the Mohawk nation inhabited the area prior to European contact.
While the Mohawk were members of the Iroquois League, they still had their rivals. The Mohawk people found their rivals in the neighboring Algonquin. The Mohawk and Algonquin competed for land and resources and also spoke different languages. In the typical story of “Us” versus “Them” conflict and, yes, even name calling ensued. When times were rough, the Algonquin people were known to chew the bark of trees for nourishment. Naturally, when looking for a derogatory name the Mohawk conjured up ratirontaks, meaning “they eat trees”.
Over time, the very specific name became the slur of choice for all the foreigners the Mohawk did not favor. When they began to interact with the Dutch, the Mohawk referred to the French and English in such a manner. When the Dutch tried to reproduce the word, it was altered to Aderondackx.
When geologist Ebenezer Emmons wrote about the mountains and his ascent up Mt. Marcy, he chose the term Adirondacks to commemorate the tribe that once lived there. It is assumed from Emmons apparent respect for the tribe that while he knew what they were called, he did not know the derogatory nature of the term. Once the name was established by Emmons, its use was widely adapted and now is the official name for the region.
Through time and translation, a name born of derision came to commemorate a people through their environment.
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