For more than 150 years, the 3,500-foot mountain west of Denver, Colorado, has been known as Squaw Mountain. As of last week, its name was Mount Mastayhe, after its influential Cheyenne translator and mediator, commonly referred to as “owl woman” in English. In Colorado in the 19th century, this woman fostered peaceful relations between indigenous tribes and advanced white settlers.
The name change was officially stamped last week by the USGS for geographical names, as the first “offensive geographical name” the state of Colorado wanted to change. Squaw is an Algonquin word that once meant “woman,” but it became popular in the colonial Wild West as a derogatory term for indigenous women, with sexual connotations.
The Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, the first Native American government official, last month described the term “sacrificial” as offensive and racist. It earlier announced steps to completely eliminate these geographical names in areas controlled by the federal government. As a result, several hundred names have been nominated to disappear across the United States.
Support for changing false names had gained momentum even before Haaland took office, partly under the influence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. More and more people want to get rid of names, images and symbols that refer to a history of colonial oppression of indigenous peoples. and other “colored” people.
Colorado’s Native Americans were delighted to change the official name of Squaw Mountain last week. Tiana Limbe of the Northern Tribal Heritage Preservation Office told Shen: “A humiliating name intended to weaken the sacred power of our women has disappeared. Her protégés will shine on her mountain for generations to come and inspire us all.”
old original names
The erroneously named commissions also began to operate in other US states. In California, the Squaw Valley ski resort changed its name to Palisades Tahoe, something local Indigenous groups have been demanding for decades. The ski resort is located in Olympic Valley, called Squaw Valley until the 1960 Winter Olympics. In Arizona, Squaw Tits Mountain was renamed Isanaklesh Peaks, after the Apache goddess.
It’s not just geographical names that offend Native Americans, like Dead Indian Mountain in Oregon. Black and Asian Americans may also criticize derogatory names on the map such as Sambo Creek in Pennsylvania, Mulatto Run in Virginia, or Chinaman Gulch in Colorado. New names are often based on old original names. After all, the Indians got there first.
Meanwhile in Colorado, several other names are in the pipeline. Like Mount Evans, named after John Evans, governor of the state at the time of the Sand Creek massacre of 1864. There, despite the ceasefire, the US military unexpectedly attacked the Cheyenne and Arapahoe camps. More than 230 women, children and elderly people were massacred. Evans, who had been constantly agitating for “enemy Indians,” had to resign at the time.
The Northern Cheyenne’s Braided Otto member lost some of his ancestors in the massacre and wants the Mount Evans name removed. He said, “This name is an insult to my people.” Washington Post. “It’s a constant reminder to the family and grandchildren of massacre survivors that the crime of Sand Creek was, to some extent, condoned by the people of Colorado and the nation.”
“Avid pop culture junkie. Alcohol nerd. Award-winning problem solver. Wannabe writer. Baconaholic. Typical creator.”