After spending more than a week walking over 250 miles in chilly autumn weather, a group of Indigenous community members and allies reached the summit of Mount Evans Sunday.
The group set out from the site of the Sand Creek Massacre on Saturday, Oct. 1, embarking on a prayer walk to raise awareness about the potential renaming of Mount Evans, Colorado’s 14th tallest mountain. The peak southwest of Idaho Springs is currently named after John Evans, the territorial governor who incited the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864.
A nonprofit called the Ancestral Healing Circle sponsored the walk. Paul Harney Soderman, the group's executive director, said he’s the descendant of General William Harney, a U.S. general believed to have committed atrocities against the Sioux tribe during the 1800s. He said that’s a big reason why he participates in these walks.
“Everything we're doing is to say all of these efforts are toward healing the generational traumas of both sides,” Soderman said.
Marchers gathered at the Echo Lake Lodge, about 15 miles away from the top of Mount Evans. There, members of various Indigenous tribes, including the Arapaho, Lakota and Cheyenne nations, engaged in traditional prayer ceremonies asking for the renaming of the mountain.
Connor Ryan, a professional skier and Lakota citizen, was sent by the group to run to the top of Mount Evans to leave a prayer staff there.
“This is all about healing that history that stems back to Sand Creek, and not forgetting about those people as we find a good way to move forward,” Ryan said.
The push to rename Mount Evans has been underway for years. Many Indigenous people, both outside and inside the prayer walk group, have given a stamp of approval for a county-level proposal to rename it “Mount Blue Sky,” in honor of the Arapaho tribe, who are known as the Blue Sky People.
“It's been a lot of hard work, a lot of conversations,” said Crystal C'Bearing, executive director of the Northern Arapaho Tribal Historic Preservation Office. “We did webinars throughout Colorado just to get education out there to the citizens of Colorado and why we thought renaming Mount Evans to Mount Blue Sky was so important.”
A state advisory board is set to begin the months-long renaming process Tuesday. The board is weighing six options to replace the mountain’s current name. Regardless of the board's decision, a new designation will have to go through Gov. Jared Polis and then the U.S. Board of Geographic Names for final approval.
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