CLEAR CREEK COUNTY, Colorado — Mountains can make people feel closer to earth, but when it has a name so derogatory many won’t dare to say it, there is a problem.
That’s why the Domestic Names Committee of the U.S. Board of Geographic Names officially approved the name change of a mountain in Clear Creek County, Colorado. It’s now called Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain.
“I’m feeling excited, I’m feeling just happy in general. I feel like the time is coming to change, the time for positive recognition in the Native community. Our voices are finally being heard," said MorningStar Jones, a member of the Mestaa’ėhehe Coalition. “I joined the fight in this past summer, I want to say in June of 2021.”
Colorado isn’t the first state to remove the offensive word from a landmark. Most recently, a well-known ski resort near Lake Tahoe California removed the term from its name.
“So the 's word' is universally known as a sexual and ethnic slur for Native American women. This demeaning perception has led to thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women," Jones said.
The coalition is fighting to change many mountain names, including Mt. Evans. It’s named after former Colorado Gov. John Evans. He's a man with a history of oppressing and murdering Native Americans.
“It’s a time for us all to work together and try to get all these names changed, ones that everyone can be proud of," said Fred Mosqueda, who is an Arapaho Coordinator for the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes.
"It’s kind of like letting us tell our history, tell who we really are," he added.
Mosqueda points out that Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain is an interesting case. It is named after a prominent Native American woman. She worked hard to create better relationships between settlers.
“We don’t name mountains after people but, you know, this came up sudden, and it seemed like, again, the time was perfect and everyone accepted this name," Mosqueda said.
Jones’ says this is more than just a name change. It’s an opportunity to provide a level of respect to native women.
“It hurts to see Native people going through this because when I see this, I don’t just see a tragic thing that happened to a family, I see my aunts, I see my uncles, I see my relatives because we are all one," Jones said. “Moving forward, we are reclaiming the names of the lands of where our ancestors were."