DENVER — Groups hoping to rename Mount Evans, a dominating peak along the Front Range, to honor Colorado's Indigenous people are taking the next big step toward the change Tuesday night.
The Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board (CGNAB) will meet Tuesday at 6 p.m. via Zoom to begin hearing from groups who want to change the name of Mount Evans. Multiple alternate names are up for discussion, including Mount Blue Sky, Mount Cheyenne-Arapaho, Mount Soule, Mount Rosalie, and re-designating it Mount Evans after a different person.
Mount Evans is south of Georgetown and west of Evergreen. It is named after former territorial Gov. John Evans (1862-1865), who authorized the murder of Native Americans in Colorado and was responsible for the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864, which ended with hundreds of Cheyenne and Arapaho men, women, and children killed, according to the Sand Creek Massacre Foundation.
This is the first CGNAB meeting to discuss renaming the 14,264-foot mountain. The introduction and review process — which includes public comment, deliberation and voting — will take at least a few months.
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.
"Mount Evans is a stunningly beautiful Colorado landmark that deserves a name that honors its natural and cultural history," the groups' proposal reads. "The mountain is named in honor of John Evans, the former territorial governor of Colorado who authorized the indiscriminate murder of American Indians and was responsible for one of the worst massacres in American history, the Sand Creek Massacre."
Evans was forced to resign in 1865 after outcries.
The Arapaho tribes were known as Blue Sky People and the Cheyenne tribes have an annual ceremony of renewal of life called Blue Sky.
Fred Mosqueda, Arapaho coordinator of the Culture Program of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, told Denver7 on Monday that the name Mount Blue Sky touches on both tribes and "is a beautiful name." He co-authored the petition to change the name.
“One of the things brought to our attention was, let's not name it in our language, but let's name it in English so it's easier to say," he said. "And then we can always put the translation in Arapaho underneath the name, so that they will know it.”
He explained that when Arapaho and Cheyenne tribe members come to Denver, they come home, but then look west to see a reminder of a tragedy.
“That’s why we want the mountain changed," Mosqueda said. "When we come to Denver, we don't want to look and see Evans. You know, there's a lot of things that we're changing in the country as far as derogatory names or bad names. And so this would be a good name to change.”
In March 2022, the Clear Creek County Board of County Commissioners voted to rename Mount Evans to honor the Indigenous people of Colorado. That's when it was sent to the state naming board.
The Mestaa'ehehe Coalition, which is one of the groups supporting the renaming to Mount Blue Sky, said during Tuesday's meeting, tribal representatives will explain former Gov. Evans' role in the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre and his overall treatment of Indigenous people.
Public comment is not allowed in this initial meeting.
If 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.
Mosqueda said he expects a new name to be finalized sometime in 2023.
Jim Ramey, Colorado State Director for The Wilderness Society — which was involved in the jointly filed petition to rename Mount Evans — said if the mountain is renamed Mount Blue Sky, the Mount Evans Wilderness Area wouldn't automatically change as a result. That would require an Act of Congress.
"But we at The Wilderness Society, the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes (in Oklahoma) and many of our conservation and recreation partners support changing the name of the Wilderness area to the Mt. Blue Sky Wilderness," Ramey said. "That likely wouldn’t happen until the whole process is complete on changing the name of the mountain."
Click here for a proposed list of all Colorado locations that the U.S. Geological Survey is considering for renaming.
In September, the U.S. government quit using a racist term for a Native American woman by renaming nearly 650 places. In a statement, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency, said she felt a deep obligation to remove these names to ensure public lands and waters are accessible and welcoming to all.
Last December, the U.S. Board on Geographical Names voted to rename Sq--w Peak in Clear Creek County to Mount Mestaa'ehehe (pronounced “mess-taw-HAY"). The name stems from a Cheyenne woman who facilitated relations between white settlers and Native American tribes in the early 19th century, part of a broader campaign to replace derogatory place names across the United States, according to the Associated Press.