The Department of the Interior proposes new names for 28 Colorado landmarks with an Indigenous slur in their names

· Feb. 23, 2022, 11:58 am
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland visits the Camp Amache National Historic Site outside Granada, Colorado.

The Department of the Interior has come up with new names for 660 geographic features that have a derogatory word for Indigenous women in their names, including 28 sites in Colorado.

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland created the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force in November and immediately tasked it with identifying and coming up with replacement names for valleys, lakes and other geographic features on federal land with “squaw” in their names. The word has been historically used as an ethnic and sexist slur. 

“Words matter, particularly in our work to make our nation’s public lands and waters accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds,” Haaland said in her announcement.  “Consideration of these replacements is a big step forward in our efforts to remove derogatory terms whose expiration dates are long overdue.”

Of the 28 features in Colorado, four of them cross state boundaries with Oklahoma or Utah. The most notable examples in the state include two major attractions in Clear Creek County, which have already had new names approved by both a Colorado and federal board.

Mestaa’ėhehe (pronounced mess-taw-HAY) Mountain and Mestaa’ėhehe Pass, located in Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, used the slur in its name before being officially changed in December. The name was chosen to honor a 19th century Cheyenne translator known as Owl Woman. New maps and signs will reflect the changes, but some street names will remain the same unless local town or municipality governments vote to change them. 

The Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force will now seek public comment on its recommendations before sending them to the Board on Geographic Names for final approval. The deadline for written feedback is April 24. 

The Department of the Interior group works separately from a Colorado board formed by Gov. Jared Polis in 2020. The state group originally made the recommendation to rename Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain, but it has yet to follow through on its promise to rename Mount Evans, which is named after the territorial governor who ordered the Sand Creek Massacre

Any recommendations the board makes must be approved by both Polis and the federal task force. 

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