Conversations pick up to rename Pikes Peak to its Ute name

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COLORADO SPRINGS — Pikes Peak is a familiar name in Colorado and throughout the West, as the mountain has held a special place for many people over the years. But conversations have picked up about changing the mountain’s name to preserve its history and heritage.

The conversations discuss changing the 14er from Pikes Peak to Tava Mountain, the Ute name for ‘Mountain of the Sun’. It’s pronounced TUH-VAH.

Pikes Peak has held its current name since 1890. The title was given to the summit in honor of Zebulon Montgomery Pike, an army officer and explorer of the West. However, Pike neither reached the top of the mountain nor was the first human to discover it, prompting questions about why it was named after him in the first place.

“He really had nothing to do with the mountain. It’s not like he discovered it or anything. It’s kind of funny it was named after him in the first place,” John Harner, geography and environmental studies professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs said.

Nobody climbed the mountain for the next 14 years until a man named James climbed to the top. As a result, many started referring to the mountain as “James Peak.” Finally, in the late 1850s when gold was discovered in Colorado, people started calling the mountain after Pike.

“Do we really want to honor this explorer Zebulon Pike who somewhat cluelessly declared that Pikes Peak could ‘never be climbed by a man’ as opposed to a name that isn’t about any one person but about what that mountain does like it calls the morning sun,” Sarah Hautzinger, ethnographer and political anthropologist Colorado College said.

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe say that they want acknowledgment in order to hold their legacy and released this statement saying the following:

“Our Ute Creation Story tells us that we came from the mountains. The traditional Ute territory included the entire state of Colorado and parts of New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Our people had names for these places prior to the arrival of settlers, and many of these names were adopted and can be seen throughout the State of Colorado. The Tribe supports the discussion of renaming Pikes Peak to the Ute word for mountain – Tava. Renaming the mountain will continue the Ute people’s legacy as Colorado’s oldest continuous residents. and serve as a reminder of cultural acknowledgment.” — Chairman Melvin J. Baker of Southern Ute Indian Tribe

The Utes lived in the region for a long time and used the mountain as a resource, according to Hautzinger and Harner.

“They were named for that mountain and that mountain marked their home…I personally would love to see a shift in the name. I think there are a lot of glorious white male explorers that are featured as the most important people around here and I personally would think it would be nifty if that shift happened ” Hautzinger said.

But some say the name Pikes Peak holds more of the city’s identity.

“I can see the resistance right we are the Pikes Peak region and there’s all sorts of symbolism around that and you know there’s lots of things named after Pikes Peak that you’d have to think about what are you going to rename Pikes Peak Avenue?” Harner said.

Many businesses and events also hold the name such as Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, Pikes Peak or Bust.

For Hautzinger, it’s not about the guilt but more of accountability that puts her behind the name change.

“I feel accountable to a very recent history of colonizing this region and the loss and expropriation of lands from various native people,” Hautzinger said.

Several mountains in the U.S. have been changed recently because of their negative and even obscene connotation to Native Americas. Mountains such as Squaw Mountain is now referred to as Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain and Mount McKinley that is now called Denali.

Although Pikes Peak is not an offensive name to Native Americans, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe say the representation and history behind it is what matters.

Renaming has become more streamlined within the State of Colorado after Governor Jared Polis created the Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board in 2020.

No action has yet been made to file the change of Pikes Peak.

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