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Politics

Polis creates board to reconsider names of Colorado mountain peaks, other places

Amid a renewed public interest in removing symbols of racism, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis created a board Thursday to evaluate proposed name changes for geographic and public places across the state.

“This new board will play a critical role in the ongoing celebration of our Colorado history through place names and ensure that we have inclusivity and transparency around the naming process,” Polis said in a statement announcing the Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board through an executive order.

“This bipartisan board will ensure that a broad spectrum of Coloradans, local communities and Colorado’s land-based Tribes can collaborate on any potential naming or renaming of Colorado geological points or landmarks.”

The board will be tasked with providing recommendations on name change proposals to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

Fourteen petitions are pending to rename locations in Colorado, including Mount Evans in Clear Creek County, Redskin Mountain in Jefferson County and Squaw Mountain in Clear Creek County, according to the federal board’s records.

Mount Evans was named after John Evans, a territorial governor who was forced to resign because of the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864. U.S. soldiers attacked and killed the Cheyenne and Arapahoe people in southeastern Colorado territory, even after they had tried to broker peace.

Redskin and squaw are both slurs used against Native Americans, with the latter being used to degrade women.

There also were requests to change names such as Negro Creek, Negro Draw and Negro Mesa in Delta and Montezuma counties, as well as Chinaman Gulch in Chaffee County.

And some also have objected to Kit Carson Mountain, named after the Colorado rancher who helped crush a Navajo uprising in the 1800s.

“The people whose names are on these places are people who really did some terrible things to Native people,” said Colorado historian Sam Bock of History Colorado. And for many tribes, these incidents weren’t in the distant past but affected family members in recent history.

Colorado historians have been working with 48 different tribes that lived in Colorado before they were driven out, most recently the Ute, Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes.

“Many of those geographic locations have been celebrations of European invasion and colonialism and sometimes Spanish invasion and colonialism,” said Glenn Morris of the American Indian Movement of Colorado, a Shawnee. Plus, all of these places had indigenous names with meanings for indigenous people, Morris said.

Eugene Black Bear Jr. of the Cheyenne Tribe in Oklahoma reflects on his own family’s history every time he hears names like that of Mount Evans. He had family members who were killed in the Sand Creek Massacre. His great-great grandmother survived and his family was pushed out to Oklahoma.

“It has a traumatic impact on our spiritual well-being,” he said of the Evans namesake. “This massacre that happened, it was tragic.”

Although this movement has been a “long time coming,” it was reignited after the latest Black Lives Matter protests and calls for removing statues from racist regimes, said Fred Mosqueda of the southern Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes. Mosqueda said he’s glad to see calls for name changes in his ancestral homeland.

But it’s about more than just a name for many Native Americans.

It’s about seeing Native Americans “not as savages or fiends or anything like that, but we’re actually humans,” Mosqueda said.

The heightened attention to names and the histories they represent has led to an increase in inquiries to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, said researcher Jennifer Runyon, but it has not yet increased the petition requests. They require a lot of work and discussion with tribes and other affected communities. They also have to include a suggestion for a new name that has been well-researched.

Colorado used to provide input to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names for changes through a state advisory board before it was eliminated and the task fell to the Colorado State Archives. But since the archivist retired in 2016, the U.S. board has been waiting for a new person or group to be named to make recommendations. It didn’t happen until Thursday, leaving Colorado as one of only two states in the last four years without an entity to provide naming recommendations to the federal agency, Runyon said.

Although the federal board isn’t required to seek official state recommendations, its members prefer to hear from the states themselves. Colorado state officials asked the U.S. board to hold off on voting on any of the state’s name change requests until they had established a new board.

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Health

Gov. Jared Polis closes bars again after coronavirus cases increase

Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday closed Colorado bars for in-person service — after allowing them to reopen at limited capacity on June 19 — due to the increasing spread of the novel coronavirus.

The move comes as Colorado has seen COVID-19 cases increase in the past two weeks. Other states experiencing surges in infections have also shut down bars. Polis announced the move during an afternoon press conference.

“Whether you personally go to bars or not, just understand that they are important for many people in our state… but there is not a way that we have found for them to be a reasonably safe part of people’s lives during the month of July in our state,” Polis said.

Bars will have 48 hours to close but can continue to sell alcohol to-go or by delivery. Bars that also sell food “and function as restaurants,” according to the Governor, can stay open for in-person service so long as they keep patrons seated at tables spaced six feet apart, without mingling.

Justin Anthony, who owns multiple Denver bars, had just finished putting the final touches on a patio expansion for one of his Larimer Street businesses, American Bonded, when he found out that bars and clubs would be closing again.

While some of his spots offer food and won’t be affected by the new round of closures, others will need to change their business model yet again to stay open.

“It is a daunting prospect to go through all of the planning… to set up something that is not just inviting but safe. All of the considerations that you’ve never had before, and what happens if the plug is pulled?” Anthony asked.

Over the nearly two weeks that bars and clubs have been allowed to reopen for in-person service, Anthony said he’s watched some fellow operators break the rules consistently.

“It’s so unbelievably frustrating to see some of my peers jamming people in, not paying attention to this stuff,” Anthony said. “I don’t think it occurs to these people, if they are just chasing the maximum profit… they are doing their colleagues in the industry a great disservice. It’s so shortsighted. And if you’ve got a patron base that is totally disregarding (rules)… it is going to prevent them from having places to go out to.”

“You are ruining it for the rest of us,” he said of these businesses and their customers.

This is a developing story and will be updated as new information becomes available.  

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