The University of Colorado-Boulder is renaming two dormitories after Native American chiefs, but it has angered some for choosing the English translations of their names rather than the original but hard-to-pronounce indigenous versions.
Last November, the university agreed to call the dorms Nowoo3 Hall and Houusoo Hall, after Native American Arapaho chiefs who are more commonly known by their English translations as Chief Niwot and Chief Little Raven, respectively.
CU spokesman Ryan Huff told the Daily Camera that university officials changed their minds about using the Arapaho language because the English versions “will be more easily recognized and referenced to by students, visitors and emergency responders.”
Indeed, Nowoo3 is pronounced “Na-waath” and Houusoo is pronounced “Ho-sah,” according to the paper.
The decision has upset some at the university who believe falling back on the English versions sends the message that CU is not only culturally insensitive, but also that its students are too lazy to learn the proper words.
“If we decide not to use the Hinono’ei [Arapaho] names because that’s ‘too hard,’ then we capitulate to the image of CU as possessing lax academic standards, and, by association, less competitive students,” Penny Kelsey, an associate professor of English and ethnic studies told the Camera.
She added that “Niwot” is also a mispronunciation of Nowoo3. When the matter was first being debated in November, about 20 faculty members signed a letter saying that using Niwot instead of Nowoo3 would be “culturally chauvinist and clearly primitivizing in a Native American context,’” according to the Camera.
Kelsey pointed out that other universities have adopted tough-on-the-tongue Native American names for their facilities, including the Xwi7xwa Library at the University of British Columbia and the Muwekma-Tah-Ruk Native American Theme House at Stanford.
“We need to reframe the way we think about our academic endeavor,” she said. “We’re here through the grace and permission of the Arapaho and Cheyenne people. This is their traditional territory and this, in fact, would be honoring them to use their language.”
“Wouldn’t it be sad if students came here for a four- or five-year education and they weren’t able to learn two words, two proper names, in the indigenous language?” she continued.
A descendant of Little Raven who’s been consulting with CU told the Camera that her family is excited by the honor and suggested using the names in both languages.
“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,” Ava Hamilton is quoted as saying.
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