Mount Evans, the 14er named after a territorial governor forced to resign following the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, could soon be renamed Mount Blue Sky.
The Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board unanimously recommended the name change of the Clear Creek County landmark at a meeting this week, after petitioners filed the request to remove the Evans name in an attempt to help members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes heal.
During the Sand Creek Massacre, U.S. soldiers attacked and killed the Cheyenne and Arapaho people in southeastern Colorado territory, even after they had tried to broker peace. Nov. 29 will be the 158th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre.
If Gov. Jared Polis agrees with the name change, he can send the recommendation to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which makes the final approval.
Melissa Dworkin, spokesperson for the governor’s office, said Polis would evaluate the proposal when a formal recommendation reaches his desk.
The Colorado board had considered six name recommendations for Mount Evans: Mount Rosalie, Mount Soule, Mount Sisty, Mount Cheyenne Arapaho and keeping the name but instead to honor John Evans’ daughter, Anne Evans, a civic and cultural arts leader in Denver.
The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Legislature passed a resolution in January 2020 calling on Congress to rename Mount Evans and the wilderness area Blue Sky, according to the petition filed to the Colorado board.
The Arapaho people are known as the “Blue Sky People” and the Cheyenne people “have an annual ceremony of renewal of life called ‘Blue Sky,’” the petition from Fred Mosqueda, Arapaho coordinator of the Culture Program of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, and the Wilderness Society stated.
Although board members had not planned to vote on a name recommendation at Thursday’s meeting, Rep. Adrienne Benavidez of Commerce City and board member said she felt they had enough information to take a vote. Her fellow members agreed.
“The board did take the time to ensure that we were listening to each of the tribal nations and respecting their sovereignty because I think that’s important as well as listening to the Indigenous community and voices,” said Kathryn Redhorse, board member and executive director of the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs. “And I really appreciate all of the advocate and the work that it takes because it is hard work.”
She added that “despite all of the atrocities and genocidal actions that have taken place,” the community remains resilient.
Members of the public had the opportunity to comment on the name change, and even John Evans’ great-great-granddaughter Anne Hayden gave her support to changing the name at the meeting, though she said she doesn’t speak for the whole family.
Hayden said it’s important to not only listen to what the Indigenous people want, but let them lead the process of the name change. She noted that many people on the call in support of the name Mount Blue Sky are not native people, so she wanted to make sure the Indigenous’ people’s various perspectives were heard.
Morning Star Jones, a descendant of Sand Creek Massacre survivors who is northern and southern Cheyenne, acknowledged that not every tribe agrees on one name for the mountain, noting that they are all sovereign nations and they can’t be expected to all come to the same conclusions. But she supported Blue Sky.
“We all have the chance here tonight on this call … to continue the work that Chief Black Kettle (a Southern Cheyenne leader) set,” she said. “And so we want to continue the talks with the government in order to have changes here in Colorado.
Renee Millard-Chacon, cofounder and executive director of Womxn from the Mountain, also supported the Blue Sky name change, calling it a way “to finally have a form of representation to bring, rename and reclaim the homelands of the Ute, the Cheyenne, the Arapaho, when they don’t even live here.”