By Alan Gionet

(CBS4) – The US Board on Geographic Names Thursday voted to re-name Colorado’s Squaw Mountain that sits between Evergreen and Idaho Springs off Highway 103, also known as Squaw Pass Road. The federal government is preparing to change maps and road signs to Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain. (Pronounced Mes-ta-heh.)

(file photo credit: CBS)

The change comes after filings from the Northern Cheyenne Tribe’s objections and hearings in the Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board.

“It was a grassroots effort, I would say I’m thankful for all of the people that helped us,” said Teanna Limpy, tribal historic preservation officer for the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. The term “Squaw” has a negative and even obscene connotation to some Native Americans.

“It was a way to dehumanize women. To say basically to say that we were inhumane that we weren’t worthy,” explained Limpy. “We’re just objects.”

The renaming of the mountain is hardly a first in the state. Other geologic features have gotten new names in the past. This is the first approval however for the state’s board, which was created by Gov. Jared Polis.

Limpy said she researched and came up with Mestaa’ėhehe, who was known to some as “Owl Woman,” as a woman who shows the strength of Native American women.

“I thought of all the women, you know from our history and our past that have really made us who we are. And I thought, well if there’s an opportunity to talk about an important woman in our history and to tell her story to share it and for people to learn and understand, you know just how strong.”

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. The Forest Service is considering a placing a plaque to explain her history.

“It’s part of reclaiming our history and reclaiming our stories within the state of Colorado because the Cheyenne people have a big presence of the state. And the only reasons that we’re not there is because we’re confined to our reservations now,” said Limpy.

While the mountain and pass will change names on maps and signs, the roads bearing the Squaw Pass name will remain the same.

“Some of the street names whether it’s a town or a municipality it falls under their authority to change those names,” explained Tim Mauck, Deputy Director Colorado Department of Natural Resources and a member of the state’s naming advisory board. The county commission unanimously approved of the change to the mountain’s name. But there’s no requirement that the road name will be changed. The commission will likely pick it up with consideration to re-naming it for Mestaa’ėhehe, but could also consider other names.

The state board has other names pending for adjustment as well: Negro Creek and Negro Mesa in Delta County, Redskin Mountain in Jefferson County and Chinaman Gulch in Chaffee County. Some of the name changes are not due to controversy.

“Right now we’ve got about 25 names pending on that list,” explained Mauck. “They run the gamut. Some are naming currently unnamed features. Some are renaming offensive or derogatory terms. Others seek to rename a feature for administrative-type purposes.”

But one big one looms; Mt. Evans. About five proposals, he says, pertain to renaming Mt Evans. Among the suggested options so far: Mt. Rosalie, an earlier name, Mt. Blue Sky, or Mt. Cheyenne-Arapahoe for the native Americans killed in the Sand Creek Massacre that territorial Gov. John Evans had a large role in. He resigned in disgrace in 1865 over the massacre.

Limpy would like Evans re-named as well, but knows it will be harder.

“I know Mt Evans is way more problematic than this one was just because of who he is and what he meant to Colorado at that time.”

The state’s naming advisory board will likely look at it in 2022, said Mauck.

“He followed through with his orders and whatnot, but not for us,” said Limpy. “When you look at the whole 360 perspective on this it’s like, wow he was out to kill us, to murder us, to wipe us off this earth.”

To the Northern Cheyenne, having people realize who had the land first remains important no matter where they are.

“Just because we’re not there now you know… that place always has been just as important as it was back then.”

Here’s a look at the state’s “action list” of geographic place names people have asked be considered for new names.

Alan Gionet