CLEAR CREEK COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – It is a beacon among the rising mountains of the foothills. From parts of Denver, it can easily be seen as the green covered mountains step up to those that rise above tree line. Squaw Mountain does not reach that high, topping out just below 11,500 feet, dressed with cell and satellite communication towers as well as power poles and lines that lead there.
There’s still a beauty to it and a majesty from its peak, and it can be seen from the old fire tower that rents out to guests.
The Northern Cheyenne Tribe is proposing to dump the name and the ugliness they believe that goes with it.
“The term ‘squaw’ has been meant to be used as a derogatory word or a dehumanizing word for native women,” said Teanna Limpy, tribal historic preservation officer for the Northern Cheyenne Tribe based in Montana.
The tribe filed an application to change the name. “Squaw” they believe is an offensive term.
“It became popular, probably because of the Indian wars and because of the, I guess the hatred of native people. And one way to conquer nations is to conquer the women and the children,” she added.
It is by some definition a term with a sexual origin by nature used to describe a female body part.
“Not a part of anything that has to do with our way by our people are women or children or warriors,” said Limpy. “It’s just a foreign word.”
The tribe instead wants the name of the mountain changed to reflect that of a Cheyenne hero. Mestaa’ėhehe, whom some called “Owl Woman.” Mestaa’ėhehe lived between 1810 and 1847 and married William Bent, of the family for which Bent’s Fort is named. There she interpreted and smoothed over relations between people.
“She was one of the three daughters of the sacred arrow keeper which is one of our covenants of the Cheyenne people,” explained Limpy.
In Clear Creek County where the mountain resides, there have been meetings about the potential name change.
“In the meetings, virtually all of the comment we had was pro change,” said commissioner Randy Wheelock.
The majority of written communication also favored the change. Some who came to meetings came to new views of the name Squaw Mountain.
“When they hear the story, when they feel the pain in the proponents of who came to speak to us about their life and how they were affected by that word, by that history, there was no doubt,’” said Wheelock. “We live in large part on stolen land. We live on the homelands of others, and it’s our place to recognize that, and it’s our place to step back and let them tell us that.”
The commission voted in June in support of the proposal.
“She’s a great testament to being a woman, a great testament to being a peacemaker and a great example of maybe how things should have been done rather than how they played out over time,” said Wheelock. “She picked up various languages. She was a good negotiator. She coordinated trade. She was basically like a queen of commerce,” said Limpy.
The Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board had a public meeting this week to hear from stakeholders and the public. It brought emotional words from some like Native American Jan Iron.
“To know that this mountain was desecrated with this name, really saddens me.”
The board took the testimony under advisement, and another meeting could be coming in September. If the board approves the change it goes the to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which far more often than not, concurs with state suggestions and changes names.
Wheelock feels he learned something.
“It’s they who are educating us. It’s they who are telling us about their life, how it feels to them and their past and their history.”
Limpy is looking forward to what appears to be good chances of change.
“It’s about time, I would say.”
Learn how to pronounce Mestaa’ėhehe.