It was delayed for several months, but today the federal officials in charge of these things voted 15 to 1 (with three abstentions) to approve the renaming of Mt. Evans to Mt. Blue Sky.
Since mid-2018, there have been six names submitted to the federal board, according to Jennifer Runyon of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.
The U.S. Board on Geographic Names approved the renaming of one of the state’s most recognizable peak, a symbol of the state visible from the Denver metro area. The step comes after months of wrangling between at least two rival groups. The ultimate selection, “Blue Sky” was an early favorite, supported by the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma.
That recommendation went to Governor Jared Polis, who forwarded it to the federal naming board. The vote was supposed to occur last March, but that left out the tribal “government-to-government” agreement. So it was delayed.
That delay lasted months when the Northern Cheyenne of Montana (which we learned was the only original Colorado tribe) said in no uncertain terms that they objected — intensely — to the name. The term “Blue Sky” is sacred to a tribal arrow ceremony they perform, and so in their opinion, using it would be “sacrilegious.” They suggested Mount Cheyenne-Arapaho. That didn’t fly, to say the least.
The federal board charged with resolving things was stymied but reminded everyone that there was “absolutely and overwhelming agreement that the name had to change.” So the fight couldn’t go on.
For non-history buffs, the name Mt. Evans is an affront to Native tribes because it is named after Governor Evans, who led Colorado when 230 peaceful Native women, children, and unarmed men were slaughtered by Colorado troops under the command of Col. John Chivington, after Chivington was ordered to clear the plains of tribes.
“I don’t think we can reach a consensus that will satisfy everyone”, added Andy Flora of the U.S. Dept. of Commerce. But “whatever name we pick, I hope it starts the healing process” sought by the tribal parties, rather than more division, he said.
Colorado’s two Democratic U.S. senators weighed in after the vote.
“We must better face the dark history of the Sand Creek atrocities by honoring the lives that were lost,” said U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper. “Renaming one of Colorado’s tallest peaks to honor the Arapaho and Cheyenne people is an important step forward.”
“This renaming was the result of a thoughtful process, led by local communities and Tribes, and I’m grateful to everyone who contributed,” said U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet. “As we work to address the wrongs done to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, and to Native people across the country, this is a strong first step.”
“Changing its name was long overdue, and I thank the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes for leading this effort,” said Colorado State Director for The Wilderness Society Jim Ramey. The organization had backed the Mount Blue Sky name.
The first name change recommendation had been “Mount Soule”, but it got little support. If selected, it would have honored Capt. Silas Soule, the whistleblower who alerted Washington D.C. and brought about a federal investigation of the 1864 Sand Creek massacre. Chivington was never held accountable, but in 1865 territorial Gov. John Evans was forced to resign.