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One of Colorado’s most popular fourteeners may soon have a new name.
Last week, officials in Clear Creek County approved a plan to change the name of 14,130-foot Mount Evans to Mount Blue Sky, a title that honors the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, who are native to Colorado.
“Blue Sky is a name that can contribute to the healing and be a unifying name for all of the stakeholders,” county commissioner George Marlin said at a meeting Wednesday.
The approval marks perhaps the biggest step forward in the state’s plan to rename landmarks with offensive or historically hurtful names. Mount Evans is the nearest 14,000-foot peak to Denver, and its snowcapped summit is visible in much of Colorado’s Front Range region. Visitors can reach its peak via the highest paved road in North America, the Mount Evans Scenic Byway.
But the mountain’s name evokes one of the worst atrocities against Indigenous people in U.S. history. The name honors John Evans, the second territorial governor of Colorado. In 1864 Evans asked Colorado residents to “kill and destroy, as enemies of the country” all Native people believed to be hostile. That proclamation precipitated the Sand Creek Massacre, an attack by the U.S. Army on a Cheyenne and Arapaho village that led to the death of approximately 230 people, mostly women and children.
During a county hearing on the name change, several representatives from Indigenous nations spoke about the painful legacy of John Evans.
“When we hear Evans, Governor Evans, Mount Evans, we know that our demise was close simply because he had an agenda and a policy to actually exterminate Indian people, same thing as Hitler with genocide of the Jews,” said Reggie Wassana, the current governor of the Cheyenne and Arapaho people.
Wassana said the name Blue Sky has significance for both tribes—the Arapaho are sometimes called the Blue Sky People, and the Cheyenne have a ceremony that uses the name.
Four other names were proposed in the hearing: Mount Cheyenne-Arapaho, Mount Evans (to honor John Evans’s daughter), Mount Rosalie, and Mount Soule.
Fred Mosqueda, a member of the Southern Arapaho Tribe, told Rocky Mountain Public Broadcasting that the choice of Blue Sky would change the way his people would view the mountain.
“It’s such a happy name. It’s for a beautiful ceremony. It’s for beautiful people,” Mosqueda said. “This was our homeland here…so, when we come to Colorado, when we look west and we see Mount Blue Sky, [we’ll] feel happy.”
The decision advances the name change to two more regulatory bodies for acceptance. First, the Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory must approve of the proposal, and then Governor Jared Polis must sign off on it. The United States Board of Geographic Names will make the final decision.
In December, Governor Polis approved the name Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain as the new title for a mountain in Clear Creek County that previously had a slur in its name. And earlier this year, the Department of the Interior published a list of 28 Colorado landmarks with Indigenous slurs in their names.