Mount Blue Sky, formerly Mount Evans in Clear Creek County, was once named for Colorado territorial governor John Evans, whose order led to the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864. The Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board recommended in 2022 that its name be changed to Mount Blue Sky. (Chase Woodruff / Colorado Newsline)
After a nearly three-year-long dispute to change the name of a mountain in Colorado, the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes received a final decision from the U.S. Board of Geographic Names Friday that concludes the tribe’s fight for historic accountability and healing.
Mount Evans, named after the second governor of the Territory of Colorado, John Evans, will be renamed Mount Blue Sky after the Domestic Names subcommittee under the U.S Board of Geographical Names voted 15-1 with 3 abstaining at the Council on Geographic Names Authorities conference in Portland, Ore., on Friday, Sept. 15.
The name-changing proposal was first introduced in November 2020 by the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, the Wilderness Society and the Mestaa’ėhehe Coalition, which is a collective of Denver-area Indigenous leaders, representatives from the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, and allies that successfully helped change the name of another mountain in the state that was once named for a derogatory term for a Native woman.
“I think I speak for all of us here that the board very much appreciates all the hard work that’s happened over the last couple of years. So many people have been involved in this process,” said Chris Hammond, a member of the Domestic Names committee. “And these things take time. While there are differences of opinion, I think there’s overwhelming agreement that the name has to be changed.”
Evans authorized the Sand Creek Massacre that occurred in 1864 in which volunteer soldiers traveled to an encampment of around 750 Cheyenne and Arapaho people. The soldiers opened fire, killing more than 200 women, children and elders, according to the National Park Service website.
“Mount Evans is a stunningly beautiful Colorado landmark that deserves a name that honors its natural and cultural history. 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,” as stated in the proposal.
The massacre, which was labeled a “battle” on a now removed statue of John Evans outside the Colorado state Capitol, is a subject in the state’s history that formerly hasn’t been addressed in schools. In 2013, the History Colorado Center closed its Sand Creek Massacre display after tribal descendants raised objections to the center’s descriptions of the event.
“I remember, while going to school, I was never taught about my historic ties to this area. The history of the Sand Creek Massacre was glossed over and I wanted to shed light on the maltreatment our Indigenous people were subject to, within this very state,” Sarah Ortegon Highwalkings, a local member of the Eastern Shoshone tribe with Northern Arapaho ancestry, told U.S. News and World Report in an article on Mount Evans.
Current Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has publicly shared his support for the mountain’s name change. Leadership from the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes released their own statements on the renaming recommendation.
“Since 1895 when this majestic mountain was named after the second territorial Governor, John Evans, Cheyenne and Arapaho people have had a constant reminder of a dark segment of our tribal history … Thank you, Governor Polis, for your recommendation on the renaming to Mount Blue Sky. A name that brings joy and honor to the Cheyenne and Arapaho people, of a ceremony for all living things, and a name of the people whose homelands this mountain overlooks. Mount Blue Sky is for everyone,” Fred Mosqueda, who is the Arapaho cultural leader for the tribes, as stated in their Tribal Tribune.
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