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Colorado’s geographic renaming board begins process of scrubbing Native American slur from 28 sites

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Dean Krakel
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Special to The Colorado Sun
This pass in Hinsdale County's Weminuche Wilderness in the San Juan Mountains will be renamed Tabeguache Pass following a recommendation by the Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board, which is scrubbing the offensive slur "squaw" from 28 features in Colorado. The 11,200-foot pass is on the Continental Divide and is reached by a creek that will be renamed Little Spruce Creek and overlooks a lake that will renamed Weminuche Lake.

This story was originally published by The Colorado Sun.

The Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board on Sunday began the process of scrubbing the offensive slur “squaw” from 28 of the state’s peaks, valleys, passes and creeks.

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland in November created a committee to strip the offensive name from federal maps. The Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force in February identified 660 features on federal land with the name, including 28 in Colorado.

A special meeting by the state naming advisory board on Sunday approved a host of new names for the 28 geographic features carrying the slur, which will be referred to as S-word in this story.

The flurry of proposed name changes occurred with rare rapidity. Before Sunday the state board had officially recommended changing two features since it began meeting in the fall of 2020: S-word Mountain in Clear Creek County to Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain and Chinaman Gulch in Chaffee County to Yan Sing Gulch.

Mestaa’ėhehe was an influential Cheyenne language and cultural interpreter, known as Owl Woman, who worked with white settlers and Indigenous tribes in the early 1800s. The name is pronounced mess-taw-HAY.

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Jason Blevins
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The Colorado Sun
The Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board on Dec. 16, 2021 recommended changing the BLM’s Chinaman Gulch in Chaffee County to Yan Sing Gulch.

Over the course of three hours on Sunday, the board swiftly weighed task force recommendations and suggestions from the local community and approved new names for nearly two dozen features. It deferred a handful of name changes to the federal task force and steered clear of suggestions for naming features after people. The board also added a stipulation that all of its recommendations should take a backseat if tribes suggest a better replacement.

Here’s a list of the recommendations approved by the board on Sunday:

  • S-word Mountain in Routt County was referred to the federal task force. Local ranchers Pat and Sharon O’Toole had pushed for Petite Teton, as the peak overlooking their property towers above the Little Snake River and the Grand Teton Range in Wyoming is above the Snake River.
  • S-word Rock in Weld County will be known as Earthlodge Rock.
  • S-word Fingers in Mesa County will be known as Ute Canyon.
  • S-word Creek in Summit County will be known as Nuchu Creek. Former Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said a group supporting the name change has consulted with the three Ute tribes. Stiegelmeier and many other leaders in Summit and Eagle counties have been working to change the name of the Gore Range to the Nuchu Range. “Nuchu Creek makes a lot of sense for what we’ve been working on for quite a while,” Stiegelmeier told the board on Sunday.
  • S-word Creek in Eagle County will be known as Colorow Creek, a name nominated by several groups, including the Sierra Club’s Headwaters Group and the Eagle Summit Wilderness Alliance. Colorow was a Ute chief who regularly visited the Eagle River Valley with his people.
  • S-word Canyon in Dolores County will be known as Sego Canyon, as recommended by the Dolores County Commission. Sego, which is pronounced SAW-go, for the sego lily, a wildflower native to the region. (And it is Utah’s state flower.) 
  • S-word Point in Dolores County will be known as Sego Point. 
  • S-word pillar in Montezuma County was referred to the federal task force.
  • S-word Hill in Yuma County will be known as Pawnee Hill, as suggested by the Pawnee Nation Tribal Historic Preservation Officer in Oklahoma.
  • S-word Creek in Archuleta County will be known as the South Fork of Yellowjacket Creek, an alternative offered by the San Juan Citizens Alliance.
  • Little S-word Creek in Archuleta County will be known as Little Yellowjacket Creek.
  • S-word Canyon in Archuleta County will be known as Eight Mile Canyon. One resident suggested changing the name to Wapiti Canyon. Wapiti is Ute for elk and it’s a common name in Colorado. “I love it but I don’t know if we should name everything Wapiti,” said state Rep. Perry Will, a Garfield County Republican and member of the naming advisory board.
  • S-word Gulch in Ouray County will be known as Hayden Gulch, but with a stipulation that it could be replaced with an alternative that emerges from a pending meeting between Ute tribes and the Ouray County commissioners.
  • S-word Creek in Hinsdale County will be known as Grizzly Creek, as suggested by the Hinsdale County Commission and the Creede Historical Society.
  • S-word Lake in Hinsdale County will be known as Weminuche Lake.
  • Little S-word Creek in Hinsdale County will be known as Little Spruce Creek, which was suggested by Hinsdale County commissioners.
  • S-word Pass in Hinsdale County will be known as Tabeguache Pass.
  • S-word Hill in Montrose County will be known as Hairpin Hill, as suggested by the federal task force in reference to nearby features named Hairpin.
  • S-word Creek in Montrose County was deferred to the federal task force, despite a recommendation by the Montrose County Commission to change the name to Veo Creek after a longtime ranching family in the region. One board member asked: Does anyone know anything about the Veo family? “I’m trying to do a Google search to see if I can find anything,” said Tim Mauck, the deputy director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources who chairs the naming board meetings as he researched the Veo family. 
  • S-word Gulch in Gunnison County was deferred to the federal task force, which lists Red Mountain, Whetstone Mountain, Ranger Hot Spring and Cement Creek Spring as candidates for a new name.
  • S-word Creek in Chaffee County will be known as Silas Soule Creek, which was suggested by a local resident after an officer who refused to take part in the Sand Creek Massacre and testified against soldiers who did.
  • S-word Creek in Saguache County was deferred to the federal task force, which lists Long Park, Lower South Park, La Garita Mountains and Mount Lion as candidates for a new name.
  • S-word Mountain in Teller County will be known as Evening Star Mountain.
  • S-word Gulch in Teller County will be known as Maize Gulch.
  • S-word Creek in Fremont County was deferred to the federal task force, which lists Taylor Soda Spring, Soapy Hill, Waugh Mountain and Wall Mountain as candidates for a new name.
  • West S-word Canyon in Baca County will be known as West Pawnee Trail Canyon. 
  • East S-word Canyon in Baca County will be known as East Pawnee Trail.
  • S-word Pass in Clear Creek County will be known as Wagon Wheel Pass, which was suggested by the county manager.
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