Colorado board approves Mount Evans name change to cut ties to massacre of tribes

A Colorado state panel on Thursday recommended that Mount Evans, a prominent peak near Denver, be renamed Mount Blue Sky at the request of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes.

The Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board unanimously voted in favor of the change. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis will consider the recommendation before the US Board on Geographic Names makes a final decision.

Thursday’s vote comes as part of a national effort to address a history of colonialism and oppression of Native Americans and other people of color after protests in 2020 called for racial justice reform.

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The proposed name change recognizes that the Arapaho were known as the Blue Sky People, while the Cheyenne hold an annual renewal ceremony called the Blue Sky.

The 14,264-foot peak southwest of Denver is named for John Evans, Colorado’s second territorial governor. Evans resigned after an 1864 massacre by US cavalry of more than 200 Arapaho and Cheyenne people—most of them women, children, and the elderly—at Sand Creek in what is now southeastern Colorado.

Visitors pass a sign of Mount Evans at the summit near Idaho Springs, Colorado July 15, 2016.
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Fred Mosqueda, a member of the Southern Arapaho tribe and a descendant of Sand Creek, said during Thursday night’s meeting when he first realized that Mount Blue Sky was a possible alternative, “it struck me like a bolt of lightning.” It was the perfect name.”

“I was once asked, ‘Why are you so mean about the name Evans?'” he recalled. “And I said to them, ‘Give me a reason to be nice or say something nice. Show me one thing Evans did that I can celebrate as an Arapaho.’ And they couldn’t.”

Mosqueda, who was actively involved in the Mount Evans renaming process, said Evans was in the perfect position as territorial governor to give the tribes a reservation, but “instead he went down the road of genocide.”

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Polis, a Democrat, revived the state’s 15-member geographic naming panel in July 2020 to make recommendations for its review before forwarding to the federal group.

Last year, the federal panel approved renaming another peak in Colorado after a Cheyenne woman who promoted ties between white settlers and Native American tribes in the early 19th century.

Mestaa’?hehe Mountain, pronounced “mess-taw-HAY,” honors and bears the name of an influential translator, also known as Owl Woman, who mediated between Native Americans and white traders and soldiers in what is now southern Coloradok.

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The mountain 30 miles west of Denver was known as Squaw Mountain. His renaming came after US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the nation’s first Native American cabinet official, officially declared “squaw” a derogatory term and announced steps to remove it from federal government use and renaming other derogatory place names.

Squaw, derived from the Algonquin language, may have once meant simply “woman”. But over generations, the word morphed into a misogynist and racist term used to disparage Indigenous women.

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