DENVER — There's art on every corner in Denver's RiNo neighborhood, and a new mural outside the Patagonia store on Walnut Street speaks to the past, present, and future of Colorado.
“A lot of times these, you know, murals go up, and we don't necessarily have that whole story," said Red Elk Banks, the general manager of the Patagonia store.
The mural is a visual push to rename Mount Evans to Mount Blue Sky and part of a conversation that has been happening for years. Several alternate names are up for discussion, including Mount Cheyenne-Arapaho, Mount Soule, Mount Rosalie, and re-designating it Mount Evans after a different person.
Mount Evans, the closest 14er to Denver, is currently named after John Evans, a former territorial governor from 1862-1865. According to the Sand Creek Massacre Foundation, Evans authorized the murder of Native Americans in Colorado and was responsible for the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864. More than 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal members were killed in the massacre.
“It makes my heart beat fast thinking about it... Even though I wasn't there, I know that my ancestors were," said the artist behind the mural, Sarah Ortegon. “Having a mountain named Mount Evans tells me that the current state doesn't care to rectify what has happened in the past.”
Ortegon said changing the name is "part of removing the the heaviness that my people have felt for hundreds of years, being pushed out of where we're originally from.”
The mural has a list with some of the names of the tribal members who were killed in the Sand Creek Massacre.
“When I saw this list of people that were killed, I thought about my name, right? Bear Robe, and right after that could have been Red Elk," Red Elk Banks said, while looking at the mural. “For me, it was a real personal reflection, and really placing me in the moment of what might have that massacre felt like, for Native people... It requires us to pause, it requires us to reflect, and requires us to take action.”
The name Mount Blue Sky is directly related to the tribes attacked during the Sand Creek Massacre.
“I'm Arapaho and it translates to Blue Sky People. And also, Cheyenne. My son is Cheyenne. My husband is part Cheyenne. And so, there's also a ceremony the Cheyenne people do call the Blue Sky Ceremony," Ortegon explained. “It [the Sand Creek Massacre] affected the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes. And so, it just kind of makes sense to name Mount Evans, Mount Blue Sky.”
The proposal to rename the peak to Mount Blue Sky was submitted by the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes and The Wilderness Society. They submitted the document in 2020.
In March of 2022, the Clear Creek County Commissioners voted to rename Mount Evans to honor the Indigenous people of Colorado. The introduction and review process for the Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board (CGNAB) will take at least a few months.
If the board decides a rename is necessary, they will pass it along to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who will then pass his recommendation along to the United States Board of Geographic Names, which will make the final decision.