The University of Colorado's decision to rename two dormitories at its Boulder campus for prominent native Americans was supposed to be a tribute, but critics say it was an insult.
The buildings, previously known as Kittredge Central and Kittredge West, have been christened "Little Raven" and "Niwot," after a pair of legendary Arapaho chiefs known for their pacifist dealings with pioneers. The tribe's ancestral home is the Plains of Colorado and Wyoming, and many regional landmarks honor its legacy. But critics, including faculty members in the school's ethnic studies department, say the new nameplates on the dormitories use Anglicized names, instead of what they say is the authentic Arapaho spelling -- "Houusoo" and "Nowoo3."
" ... choosing to spell Nowoo3 as Niwot would be equivalent to spelling Charles de Gaulle’s name phonetically (Sharl duh Gahl), which is culturally chauvinist and clearly primitivizing in a Native American context,” read a letter from 20 faculty members to the university's planning board, written when the name change was initially proposed and first reported by The College Fix.
“Neither phonetic spellings (Hosa, Niwot) nor literal translations … of these options seems culturally sensitive and attuned to the unique political status of Native Americans and Arapahos in Colorado, specifically,” the letter also stated. “Houusoo and Nowoo3 were the names these pivotally important and pacifist-oriented chiefs were known by, and we should honor them in their own languages in their own home (i.e., Boulder).”
School officials, who recently affixed signs marking the dorms with their new names, say the more easily pronounced versions are easier for visitors, students and emergency responders to locate and recognize.
“Two weeks ago, we proposed to the CU Board of Regents to name these residence halls ‘Little Raven Hall’ and ‘Niwot Hall,’” CU Boulder spokesman Ryan Huff said in a statement to FoxNews.com. “We believe these buildings will be fitting tributes to these leaders and will serve to educate generations of students about the cultures and leaders who shaped the history of Colorado, the Boulder Valley and the CU-Boulder campus.
The flap has prompted some to highlight the absurdity of perceived political correctness being applied to a school that sought to honor Native Americans.
“If CU wants to be fully culturally sensitive, it ought to have no rendering at all of the names in the Roman alphabet, respecting the preliterate heritage of the tribes they honor,” Thomas Lifson, editor of American Thinker,said in a blog posting on the subject. “Of course that would be stupid. But stupider still is the phony guise of sensitivity in using a Romanization that is so incomprehensible to the people who will be living in and visiting the dormitories that an explanatory plaque will be necessary.”
Descendants of Chief Little Raven appear to support the name change.
Ava Hamilton, a descendent of Chief Little Raven, who has been acting as a liaison between the university and the family, told local newspaper The Daily Camera that they are excited about the renaming of the buildings, and even suggested that the university could use both the English and traditional spellings.
"At least their intentions are really good to name and recognize the people who once lived in this area and whose land and homeland this is," she told the Daily Camera.
The critics of the proposal come from the same Ethnic Studies department that employed Ward Churchill from 1990-2007. Churchill, who called the innocent Americans killed in the 9/11 attacks "Little Eichmanns," implying that the nearly 3,000 civilians were to blame for what Churchill considered America's injustice to the Arab world, was finally fired in 2007 after a drawn out legal battle with the school over misconduct.
Churchill wore his hair in braids and claimed to be a Native American, but an extensive, 2005 genealogical investigation by the Rocky Mountain News found no evidence of Native American heritage.