Owl Woman

A contemporary drawing of Mestaa’ėhehe (pronounced mess-ta-HAY), a leader of the Southern Cheyenne during the 19th Century. A mountain in Clear Creek County could be renamed for her in the coming months. Drawing by Lieutenant James Abert (1820-1897) via Wikipedia.

Just days after a resort at Lake Tahoe changed its name from Squaw Resort to Palisades Tahoe, Colorado's Geographic Naming Board voted in favor of a name change for Squaw Mountain in Clear Creek County.

The new name, one advanced by the Northern Cheyenne tribe, would be Mestaa’ėhehe (pronounced mess-ta-HAY) Mountain. 

The word "Squaw" is considered offensive, especially to indigenous women, according to Indian Country Today.

It's the first name change approved by the 13-member board, which convened after a five-year absence last year .

The unanimous vote is a recommendation to Gov. Jared Polis to approve the name change, and it also must be reviewed by the U.S. Board of Geographic Names. The federal board's representative told the Colorado board in June that this name change has been waiting for four years and urged the Colorado board to act quickly. Clear Creek County commissioners have also signed off on the change.

The federal board has already made that naming change for at least 16 other landmarks around the country, and at least seven states (Oklahoma, Oregon, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, South Dakota and Arizona) have taken legislative action to remove the name from all of their geographic landmarks. There have been proposals over the years to make a blanket replacement with the name "Indian Woman," although that hasn't been adopted by the federal board.

Colorado's name change honors “Owl Woman,” a Southern Cheyenne leader and wife of William Bent. According to the proposal submitted by proponent Teanna Limpy, the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, Owl Woman "helped negotiate trade between the many groups who traded at Bent's Fort, and helped maintain good relations between the white people and the Native people. As the eldest daughter of the powerful Cheyenne leader White Thunder, Mestaa’ėhehe worked as a translator and important bridge between the indigenous tribes and the newcomers, in an era before the military-ordered massacres and removals."

The previous name dates back to 1923 and appears to be part of a trio of mountain names in the area, including Papoose Mountain and Chief Mountain, according to board documents.

The renaming isn't likely to be the last time the board will be asked to consider name changes for landmarks with the word "Squaw." There are two other mountain summits, three streams and 36 total features, both natural and man-made, that contain the word "Squaw" in Colorado.

The board postponed discussion on two proposals from Delta County Commissioner Don Suppes regarding the names of Negro Creek (changing it to Clay Creek) and Negro Mesa (changing it to Clay Mesa). The board will review those proposals in its next meeting in October.

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