The University of Colorado has backed off a proposal to rename two dorms on the Boulder campus using the Arapaho tribe's traditional Hinono'ei spellings.
A plan to transform Kittredge West into Nowoo3 Hall and Kittredge Central into Houusoo Hall was approved last November by a campus planning group that advises Chancellor Phil DiStefano.
But the proposal now set to go before the CU Board of Regents for initial approval on Friday asks to rename the buildings Niwot Hall and Little Raven Hall, and makes no mention of the Hinono'ei spellings.
Nowoo3, pronounced "Na-waath," is the Arapaho word for Chief Niwot or Left Hand. Houusoo, pronounced "Ho-sah," is Chief Little Raven.
The Arapaho are thought to have spent their winters in Boulder Valley starting in the 1800s or possibly earlier.
CU spokesman Ryan Huff said the university administration is sticking with an earlier proposal to name the buildings Little Raven and Niwot halls.
"While some faculty members expressed their preference to use the Arapaho language, the CU-Boulder administration has remained committed to the original proposal of using the English spellings," Huff said. "We believe these names will be more easily recognized and referenced to by students, visitors and emergency responders."
Meeting minutes from the November campus planning meeting show that the use of the Hinono'ei names had "many supporters," including the Little Raven family, CU student government leaders, a Native American student group, many faculty members and CU's housing and dining office.
More than 20 faculty members signed a letter to the regents urging them to adopt the plan with the Hinono'ei names.
In the letter, faculty members explained that using Niwot instead of Nowoo3 would be the equivalent of spelling Charles de Gaulle's name phonetically as Sharl duh Gahl, "which is culturally chauvinist and clearly primitivizing in a Native American context."
Penny Kelsey, an associate professor of English and ethnic studies, said that in addition to being culturally insensitive, Niwot is a mispronunciation of Nowoo3.
She added that peer institutions have buildings named using the spellings of Native American languages, such as the University of British Columbia's Xwi7xwa Library, Stanford's Muwekma-Tah-Ruk Native American Theme House and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst's Kanonhsesne Residential Program.
She said using native languages and spellings is standard practice in the field of Native American studies. Renaming the dorms in English is equivalent to teaching a mechanical engineering student the wrong math needed to construct a building, she said.
"We need to reframe the way we think about our academic endeavor," Kelsey 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? Let's set the bar a little higher."
Though language and Native American culture experts had originally been consulted about renaming the buildings, Kelsey said the group was not informed of the decision to rename them in English.
She added that in CU's "constant fight" against its party-school image, the decision to use native spellings could have improved the university's reputation.
"If we decide not to use the Hinono'ei 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," she said.
'Intentions are really good'
Ava Hamilton, a descendent of Chief Little Raven, has been acting as a liaison between the university and the Little Raven family. She said the family is excited about the renaming of the buildings, but she wondered why the university didn't use both the English and Hinono'ei spellings on the dorms.
She also wondered why one name, Little Raven, is the literal English translation of Houusoo, while Niwot is a mispronounced phonetic version of Nowoo3.
"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 said.