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The U.S. Board on Geographic Names has approved the petition to rename a Clear Creek County peak Mestaa'ehehe Mountain.
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During a Dec. 9 meeting in Washington, D.C., the board approved changing the name from Squaw Mountain, a name government bodies have recognized as derogatory.
Teanna Limpy, director of the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Historic Preservation Office, said she appreciated the overwhelming support for the name change. She celebrated the removal of the mountain’s former derogatory name, which she said diminished indigenous women’s power and sacredness.
“This goes to show that there is nothing we cannot achieve if we think with our own hearts and always remember who we are doing this for,” Limpy said in a Dec. 9 press release from the Mestaa’ehehe Coalition.
The mountain, which is along Highway 103 near Echo Mountain ski resort, has been renamed for Owl Woman, a notable Cheyenne figure. She helped maintain peaceful relations between local tribes and new settlers until she died in 1847.
Owl Woman was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 1985.
Limpy was overjoyed that the mountain’s new namesake is such a powerful and strong Cheyenne woman whose path and story is an inspiration for all. She also hoped the new name would prompt people to learn about indigenous cultures and languages.
“Mestaa’ehehe will be standing tall on that mountain for many generations to come,” she continued. “ … We are excited this marks the start of a new horizon for all.”
Monte Williams, supervisor of the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, thanked the local stakeholders and tribal governments for their work.
The U.S. Forest Service co-filed the renaming petition with the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, and Williams said he's thankful the mountain's new name honors “an influential indigenous woman who played such an important role in Colorado history."
He added that the U.S. Forest Service will be renaming the mountain's administrative sites accordingly to honor her, and will update its signage as quickly as possible.
‘A long, emotional journey’
The Dec. 9 decision completes a “long, emotional journey,” the Mestaa’ehehe Coalition described.
In Oct. 2020, representatives from the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and the U.S. Forest Service filed a joint federal petition to rename the peak Mestaa'ehehe Mountain in Owl Woman's honor. (Editor's note: Mestaa'ehehe pronunciation reference linked here.)
Over the summer, Clear Creek officials, Evergreen-and Idaho Springs-area residents, tribal representatives and people of indigenous descent discussed the merits of the Mestaa'ehehe Mountain petition.
Many who spoke at a June 1 county commissioners meeting described how disgusting the former name was. Many compared it to other gender-and race-based slurs, saying it's unacceptable for such a beautiful area to have such an offensive name.
Clear Creek County ultimately told state officials it supported the Mestaa'ehehe Mountain petition.
In mid-September, the Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board recommended renaming the peak to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which had final say on the matter.
Then, on Nov. 19, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland issued orders that would streamline the renaming process for all derogatory names, including an order assembling a task force to rename all federal lands that share the mountain's former name.
Making the physical change
While the name Mestaa'ehehe Mountain is official on paper, changing all the local items that bears the peak's former name will take some time.
The mountain is on U.S. Forest Service land, and has a fire tower and telecommunications equipment at the summit, USFS spokeswoman K. Reid Armstrong described. The U.S. Forest Service will have to change its signage for the mountain, and Armstrong didn't have an estimate on how long that will take.
The agency will also have to rename its fire tower and telecommunications equipment, which she said will be an internal process that will likely take several months.
Clear Creek County also has several roads that bear the mountain's former name, and several locals have voiced their support for changing the roads' names as well.
County officials previously explained that the roads bearing the peak's previous name wouldn't automatically change if the mountain's did.
Now that the petition's been approved, officials will have to decide whether and how to rename those roads, but there's no formal proposal or process yet.
County Commissioner Randy Wheelock, who's also a member of the Mestaa'ehehe Coalition, said the county will likely discuss that topic in 2022 now that the USBGN has approved the Mestaa'ehehe Mountain petition.
“I think a dialogue between local stakeholders and the indigenous community will help inform those decisions,” Wheelock said of the renaming the roads.
Residents have also wondered whether nearby peaks of Chief, Warrior and Papoose should be renamed as well. Wheelock previously described how the topic's come up in discussions with tribal representatives, but hasn't been revisited in several months.
Is Mount Evans next?
There are also several petitions to rename Mount Evans. Its namesake, Colorado Territorial Governor John Evans, is believed to have authorized the U.S. Army's attack on Cheyenne and Arapaho people at Sand Creek.
There are at least four petitions to rename the peak:
Clear Creek County can register support or non-support for any petition to rename Mount Evans. Wheelock emphasized that the county hasn't taken a position yet on which petition, if any, to support.
Thus far, the state advisory board has not had a hearing about or made a recommendation on any of the petitions.
Last December, residents in Clear Creek and beyond expressed mixed opinions on renaming Mount Evans. Some were in favor of a new name that honored Colorado's first peoples, while others said it would always be Mount Evans to them.
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