November 29, 1864 was a grim day in Colorado state history when the territorial governor, John Evans, ordered an attack that resulted in the massacre of over 230 Cheyenne and Arapaho people in what later became known as the Sand Creek Massacre. Most of the victims were elderly, women, or children.
Now Colorado’s Geographic Naming Advisory Board has voted to change the name of the 14,265 foot mountain, recommending Mount Blue Sky, to honor the victims of the Eastern Plains attack that resulted in the murder of people from both tribes.
“No name can undo the pain and suffering caused by the Sand Creek Massacre, but removing the name of the man most responsible for the massacre honors the very tribes that Evans sought to destroy,” Paul Spitler, a director at The Wilderness Society, voiced in a petition.
But while the majority agree that the name of the mountain needs to be changed, what exactly the name should be has been subject to debate, oftentimes to the detriment of the indigenous people that the renaming purportedly seeks to honor.
In one particular case, a proposal suggested that the mountain name be kept, but in reference to John Evans’s daughter, Anne Evans, who has a history of supporting cultural institutions in the state.
Nellie M., a Native American woman, called keeping the name offensive and noted that “it wouldn’t be healing if you even considered the name of Evans after what he has done to the Cheyenne-Arapaho people.”
Another name proposal by the aptly named Karen Naiman suggested Mount Soule to honor Captain Silas Soule, a soldier who refused to participate in the Sand Creek Massacre.
“Respectfully, Soule sounds like a good person, but we are discussing renaming as a form of reparation to the Indigenous people that Gov. Evans harmed. Naming the mountain after yet another white man doesn’t seem appropriate,” Kellie, an attendant in the renaming debate, pointed out.
“It is honestly disrespectful to propose another name of colonizers in this space,” Renee Millard-Chacon, the executive director for the indigenous educational nonprofit Womxn from the Mountain, said in response to a proposal to rename the mountain after a State Fish Commissioner.
“We don’t always get full consensus. But understanding the communities that show up and do this work, including and especially, (those working toward) community healing is incredibly key,” Millard-Chacon continued.
The group has tentatively settled on Mount Blue Sky as the new name and will seek to gain approval from Gov. Jared Polis, who will then submit the recommendation to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names for approval.