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Group pushes for renaming of San Francisco peak linked to racist history

Agassiz Peak
Wikimedia Commons
Agassiz Peak

A group of Native American students is urging Flagstaff city officials to rename one of the San Francisco Peaks due to its namesakes’ history of racism. The Peaks are sacred to numerous tribal nations.

Agassiz Peak is currently named after 19-century Swiss-American scientist Louis Agassiz. The biologist was a known proponent of polygenism, a theory used to legitimize belief in white superiority.

Makaius Marks, who is Diné, is part of a group of students calling for the peak to be renamed to its traditional Hopi name, Öo'mawki.

"Our intention is to put a name on that peak that reflects the history of those that came before us because those who came before us for hundreds of generations knew these peaks were named specific to them," Marks said.

Marks says the current name erases Indigenous cultural history and ties to the land.

"And we are wanting to honor that — we are putting that intention out there of saying this is where we're going to start the healing process," Marks said.

The City of Flagstaff has already taken action to distance itself from Agassiz’s legacy. In 2020, the City Council renamed Agassiz Street to W.C. Riles. Riles was the first Black student to enroll in the Arizona State Teachers College, which would eventually become Northern Arizona University.

However, the renaming of Agassic Peak will require federal action. It's not unheard of, though — the U.S. Department of the Interior recently renamed multiple geographic locations across the country with racist or offensive names.

Bree Burkitt is the host of Morning Edition and a reporter for KNAU. Contact her at