Boulder’s Settlers Park will (finally) be renamed

A view from Settlers Park in Boulder. (Image by Stephanie Swartz via City of Boulder Flickr.)

Friday, May 28, 2021

Five years after signaling its intent to rechristen Settler’s Park — where the first European peoples in Boulder violated a treaty and the sovereignty of indigenous peoples living here — a suggested name has finally emerged. The Peoples’ Crossing has been proposed by the same tribes whose ancestors lived here before being displaced by white settlers, and city council will consider the recommendation Tuesday.

The application to rename the open space area was filed by the city. It’s subject to a council call-up, or review. If elected officials don’t call the renaming up, it will go through.

That’s a likely outcome: A new moniker was part of the Indigenous Peoples Day resolution passed in 2016, which established the holiday in lieu of Columbus Day. Part of the resolution was an explicit goal to ditch Settler’s Park as part of a larger effort to “correct omissions of the Native American presence in public places, resources and cultural programming.”

A specific requirement called upon Boulder to work with area tribes on “a name that commemorates the Indigenous presence on the parkland known as ‘Settler’s Park.'” The renaming has been revisited since then, without much forward progress. The city took the idea to representatives of tribes who historically had a presence in and around what’s today known as Boulder.

The 2019 consort agreed to a renaming. This year’s group had a “strong consensus” about using The Peoples’ Crossing because the area has “been a crossroads for Indigenous Peoples who have traversed and lived in the mountains and plains of the Boulder area since time immemorial.”

It also is a nod to “The People” or “Our People,” how many American Indian Tribal Nations refer to themselves (when translated into English from their native tongues). Ernest House, a director with the Keystone Policy Center who helps council prep for tribal consultations, said in April that federally recognized names of area tribes are often not the names tribes traditionally use or even prefer.

For example, “Ute is a Spanish word,” House said, of his own heritage. “It’s not what we call ourselves.”

The Utes are among 48 federally recognized peoples with historic presence in Colorado. Only two remain today: 46 were forcibly removed. Boulder has agreements and consults with more than a dozen tribes.

“Usage of the term ‘The People’ is meant to be inclusive of all people who have traveled through and have lived in the Boulder area,” staff wrote in notes to council.

Read: Renaming is ‘worthwhile’ step forward. Daily Camera

Not much is known the pre-colonized history of The Peoples’ Crossing. It was perhaps used as winter camping grounds, according to city staff, a presumption based on the discovery of two grinding stones discovered there in 1989. Boulder plans to work with tribal leaders to develop a more robust history of indigenous use of the area.

People of European descent first arrived in Boulder in October 1858, drawn by the prospect of the Gold Rush. The 1-acre plot is believed to be where some of these first miners settled, including later participants in the Sand Creek Massacre. This violated an established treaty, and it was at this spot that Arapaho Chief Niwot reportedly told the miners they could not stay.

But they did, as staff noted. “Miners during the beginning of the Gold Rush in 1858 and 1859 and a steady influx of white occupiers violated treaties and forcibly removed tribes from the Boulder area, severing their connection with the land.”

Boulder purchased the park and trailhead, commonly referred to as Red Rocks, in the 1960s for use as open space. References to Settler’s Park appeared in city documents and newspapers as early as 1983, suggesting it was colloquially used — “at least among some city staff.” The name became ubiquitous and more official in the 1990s, included on maps, signs and even carved into the concrete of an underpass connecting Eben G. Fine park to the Red Rocks trails.

“While it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact origination of the name ‘Settler’s Park,'” staff wrote, “based on city research, 1990s-era city-produced signs and interpretive materials may be the likely source of the name ‘Settler’s’ Park for the area.”

It will cost $21,300 to swap out easily replaceable infrastructure such as a wooden sign on Canyon Drive, a visitor kiosk at the start of Red Rocks Spur Trail and maps on signs at Panorama Point, Halfway House, Realization Point and Centennial trailheads. More funds will be needed for long-term signage, including “interpretive” and educational materials explaining the significance of the name and history of indigenous peoples in the area.

Those will be developed through further consultation with local tribes. An exact timeline is not clear. As consultant House said in April, time is not the most important consideration when working with tribal leaders.

American society is “so driven by time,” House said in preparing council for this year’s consultation. “For indigenous communities, time is not the pressure.” Consultations should focus on developing relationships rather than working to a deadline to accomplish a goal. “Our elders deserve that respect.”

Staff hope to have the renaming completed by Indigenous Peoples Day (Oct. 11) this year. The city is also working to update agreements with tribal nations, which often center on use of open space; and to develop a citywide land acknowledgement. The Peoples’ Crossing is a first step in that, and the first time Boulder has renamed something with the intent to honor indigenous peoples with their input.

City staff is not currently aware of any facility that has been purposefully renamed with the assistance and guidance of American Indian Tribes.”

Learn more about

Land acknowledgements

Tribal Consultations and Colorado’s American Indian / Alaska Native populationKeystone Policy Center
See also: Boulder Beat Twitter thread on 2019 consultation prep

The Peoples’ Crossing renamingCity of Boulder

— Shay Castle,, @shayshinecastle

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