Barrow, Denali, Inupiaq, Language, Names, North Slope of Alaska, Political Correctness, Social Justice, Utkiagvik
I live in Barrow, Alaska.
Wait a minute. No I don’t.
I live in Utqiagvik, Alaska.
It turns out that the town of Barrow has elected to change its name to Utqiagvik, or at least we have initiated the process for making this change.
Okay. It’ll take a day or three to get used to, and I can certainly understand some of the reasons for opposing it, but on the whole the recent name change of the town where I live is fine by me. It’s a native designation for a primarily native community. I’m not that involved in local politics, but suffice to say that this is a local decision I am happy to live with.
Thinking about it, a little bit, I am reminded of the way people responded to a similar change of names. It was a little over a year ago that President Obama announced the decision to change the name of Mt. McKinley to Denali. I recall immediately realizing that this would have little impact on the lives of Alaskans. To us, that was the name of the mountain, Denali, full stop. My favorite anecdote about that change came from a guy on Twitter who related the story of how he learned Denali was Mt. McKinley when he moved to the lower 48 and people began asking about it. He had lived in central Alaska for a couple years, and nobody that he noticed had ever called it Mt. McKinley. So, he simply hadn’t made the connection until non-Alaskans began talking to him about it. For myself, the only reason I knew it was Mt. McKinley was because one of the many pilots who called attention to Denali as we flew over actually bothered to mention that it was called Mt. McKinley in the lower 48. If I hadn’t heard that, I might not have made the connection myself. To me, it’s Denali. It’s been Denali since I moved up here, and near as I can tell that’s what the mountain is to Alaskans in general. Sure, there are some other native groups with names of their own for the mountain, but to most Alaskans it is Denali. So, that change shouldn’t have been all that controversial.
…or so one might think!
It wasn’t really all that surprising, but it was certainly worthy of an eye-roll to find how many people viewed the move as an instance of political correctness. Obama was, in their view, caving to the social justice warriors of the world and adopting a new term just to placate Alaska Natives. We all knew it was really Mt. McKinley, so the argument seemed to run, at least it should have been, and it was damned silly to find this mountain whose name we already know getting its named changed just to keep some odd group happy. Yawn! Heard that story from lots of folks who’ve never seen Denali, much less talked to Alaskans about it.
I suppose it wouldn’t occur to some folks that the indigenous people in the area might have thought the same thing when the mountain was renamed in honor of one of the nation’s caretaker Presidents. It certainly didn’t occur to some people that the name change might have had overwhelming support throughout the state at large, a marked preference for both native and non-native alike.
There was, as it happens a political angle to this. President Obama was then preparing a visit to Native Alaskan communities even as Shell Oil was preparing to drill in the arctic; the renaming might very well have served to provide a token gesture of good will in advance of a potentially divisive moment of history. But if this is a problem, it was a problem of timing and ulterior motives. As regards the merits of the name change itself? No, that’s not a problem at all. Not here.
So the renaming of Denali was for me one of those moments when PC-bashing rhetoric revealed its true colors as a form of political correctness in itself, and those complaining about the name change found themselves triggered, so to speak, by a symbolic issue of little genuine significance to themselves.
So, I wondered…
I wondered what certain ‘conservative’ voices might make of this recent name change? It seems an innocent enough question, doesn’t it? Ah, but in this case an ‘innocent question’ is another phrase for ‘damned morbid curiosity.’ That’s the only reason I can think why I would have found myself scanning the comments section at World Net Daily. I know. It’s a bit like scavenging a garbage dump except I can think of legitimate reasons to look through a garbage dump. As to looking at the comments on World Net Daily, I have only the aforementioned excuse, and it’s not a very good one at that.
Like any other miserable person, I am apparently interested in some company, so let me share with you what I found. The article itself was just a stub and a link to a piece from Alaska Dispatch News, but the comments? Oh, the comments!
Well, don’t get to used to it, before long they’ll be telling us the muslims were there first.
Um, no. But it is fascinating that a perfectly real question about a community that really was here first would be so easily dismissed with a story about one that clearly wasn’t.
How many Inupiak actually lived in “Utqiagvik” prior to its being named Barrow? I would venture even fewer than lived in Iqaluit (which is in Nunavut) prior to its being named Frobisher Bay (which was its name until 1987).
Basically, this was copied from the 1987 Canuck folly of renaming Frobisher Bay as “Iqaluit”.
A bit more detailed than the other folks weighing in on the subject, which is it least interesting. I really can’t tell why the number of Inupiaq who lived here prior to contact is relevant to the current name. Likewise, it isn’t entirely clear why the renaming of Frobisher Bay is a problem. That name change too is not what this individul would like to see, that’s clear enough, but he never does present a clear reason to believe his preferences should weigh more than the preferences of either community. …or that they should weigh anything at all, really.
Oh no… not another passport stamp within our own country !!!
HE IS COMING……………..
Passport? Do we need passports now? I don’t think so. It is interesting though to think that the name of our little town could trigger the second coming? At least I think that’s what the writer is referring to. So, I guess Jesus doesn’t think much of indigenous names. Unless he does. Seriously I suspect the many churches of Utqiagvik are filled with Native people who may have prayed for this very thing, or given prayers of thanks afterwards. I could be wrong of course. Honestly, I don’t know what happens in churches on Sunday, but still. Seriously? He’s coming? Over this!?!
“To [rename Barrow] would acknowledge, honor and be a reclamation of our beautiful language which is moribund.”
Their “beautiful language” is dying is because to embrace that culture is a sure-fire way to wind up spending the rest of your life performing the Inupiaq equivalent of burger flipping. The young just aren’t interested and are leaving for better, easier lives, hence the moribund language.
Okay, this is an interesting narrative. To say that it affirms a kind of cultural imperialism would be putting it mildly, but it’s an oddly caricatured version of the local job market. Simply put, the North Slope of Alaska does not seem to be lacking for jobs, and in particular it does not seem to be lacking for jobs in which speaking Inupiaq would be anything less than a plus. Speaking Inupiaq alone could be an issue, but English + Inupiaq? That’s a damned pay raise right there! If people are leaving that’s not it. If the language is floundering, that’s not why.
A barrow by any other name….
Dog gone it !! I missed Indigenous People’s Day again.
So somebody doesn’t give a fuck about indigenous people? Well fuck his fucks anyway.
Re: BARROW, ALASKA, CHANGES ITS NAME … TO ‘UTQIAGVIK’
‘It reclaims our beautiful Inupiaq language’
If memory serves me the people of Alaska recently voted to call Mount McKinley by its original Native-American name.
More than half the US states have Native-American names and there is a reason for that. Native Americans may have fought each other, as well as Europeans, but the Europeans admired Indian bravery and kept most of the Indian names of places for that reason.
Interesting. I don’t think warrior heritage is really the issue in either of these cases, but this does strike me as a reasonable effort to understand what’s going on. It’s nice to see that reasonable happens from time to time, even in odd places.
Well, if I ever have to go to Barrow/Utqiagvik I’ll have to visit the travel agency to book a flight. They’ll never understand what the hell I’m saying over the phone.
Unpronounceable Utqiagvik is so…so…PC!
Always amusing to see someone who has ideas about what other people should be calling themselves complain about their political correctness. And seriously, it’s really not that hard to pronounce. I mean, the ‘g’s around here are not like English ‘g’s but no-one has been executed for mispronouncing a ‘g’ in at least 5 years. Say it like it looks and no-one is going to bug you about it.
Now, knowing we are meant to have a republic, this is one of the few democracy style political decisions I can live with. Doesn’t bother me one bit to have a community decide on a name change…even if I have no hope of pronouncing it in this lifetime.
Nice to see a conservative voice in the comments at WND for a change.
Utki… Oh that was a rhetorical question, wasn’t it?
I guess we can call it The City Formerly Known as Barrow.
…or we can call it Utqiagvik.
We could have its name as ‘UTQIAGVIK’, but since this name seems to be unpronounceable or sounds and looks almost random to most people, I think nearly everyone will continue to call the town “Barrow”. Thanks, though.
Reply 1: It looks like a name some negro might give to their child.
Reply 1a: …could be an Icelandic volcano name
On the first comment here, I find the authorial ‘we’ interesting. If ‘nearly everyone’ is nearly everyone that lives elsewhere, then I suspect nearly everyone here won’t much give a damn. If nearly everyone were here, then well I suspect the vote would have been different.
On the first reply to that comment, I’m guessing this is one of those folks mystified by the way some people keep calling him ‘racist’, but I’m sure I would have no idea why that would be the case.
On the second reply to that particulatr comment, I suppose it could, and that would be cool.
I went on a one night trip to Barrow um Utqiagvik back in 1993. Alcohol was prohibited but there was a speakeasy just a snowball throw away from the law enforcement building. I went on a school bus tour and the driver narrated. It was great. There was an italian restaurant that had excellent food. It was an expensive trip but worth it.
Disgusting! We brought these people civilization, yet they still want to celebrate their savage ways
Reply 1: Maybe they didn’t want to be brought into anything! Maybe they just wanted too be left *** alone.
Reply 2: Barrow had Eskimos. They were peaceful until corrupted by alcohol. The noble savages lived in the south and they too became corrupted after being turned on to petrol and alcohol too. The white man did it.
Reply 2a: All the white man did was give them God, civilization, and stopped them from warring among themselves over sparse resources.
Reply2a1: The black man and woman are the start of humanity.
Reply2a2: One more IDIOT that does not know their history the white man sold alcohol to the Indians in the lower 48 and in Alaska also….
Reply 2a3: When before that, they had only Peyote and Mescaline. Fine hallucinogens indeed. Good Grief.
Reply 2a4: I know the white man introduced them to alcohol. The point is that the indian moral character was so weak that their way of life collapsed because of it, so big government has to give them land and take care of them like orphan children
It’s always nice to see bigotry drop the white robes and show its face in the light of day, or at least the internet equivalent. That would certainly cover the first comment. What’s fascinating to me though about this exchange is the use of peyote and mescaline to undermine respect for Inupiat. Those plants are not found in the arctic, so this person is clearly treating the indigenous people of the Americas as one homogeneous group. That he also doesn’t seem to understand much about native use of these hallucinogens is of course par for the course. The mere presence of drugs in the Americas is, for him, sufficient cause to comment on the moral character of all of them.
…and we’re back to naked bigotry, bigotry that’s still going strong at the end of the thread.
Also find it fascinating that such folks could consider themselves conservative. There is simply nothing in conservatism that should contribute to such naked bigotry. And still…
Why don’t they just piut up a blank sign, since the enlightened indigenous people of Alaska had no writen language….or an alphabet for that matter?
I normally make it a point not to use people’s spelling and grammar against them, but I can’t help feeling amused at the difficulties this fellow has writing about the inferiority of those without a written language. I also find it fascinating to see someone hold the lack of a written language against any population. Suffice to say that Inupiaq is written now (hence the ability to write the name, Utqiagvik), and there isn’t much reason to hold it against Inupiat that they learned writing from someone else. …just like most of the peoples of Europe did at one point or another.
How about “Freezeyourassoff”?
been to Barrow, it’s a dump
Reply 1 – So is Detroit
Reply 2 – But it was fun for me. I visit the hood while there but the hooligans were safe. I ate fried chicken at the supermarket and while there checked out the prices of food items. Triple in cost! The beach I went to was cold but nice. It was fun for the one night I stayed.
Your face is a dump!
From now on people will say “so, you’re from Unpronounceable, Alaska”
Reply – Or, gesundheit.
Touché and thank you.
Reply 1 : How do you pronounce this new name!!????
Reply 1a: I guess the Alaska Dispatch News never expected to get national coverage of this story. Either that, or it never occurred to the writer and editor that few people outside of the area would have the first clue how to pronounce the new name.
Reply 1b: oot-GHAR-vik
Reply 1b1: Thank you!
Reply 1c: Utqiagvik… pronounced just as how it looks.
Reply 1c1: It looks pretty messed up.
Reply 1c2: The same forward and backward … at least when I say it.
Reply 1c3: Haha, Okay! That makes my day. I can chuckle all day now.
Us Americans are so darn monolinguistic.
Reply 1c4: “Us Americans are so darn monolinguistic.”
I’ll bet the Romans were too when they were the dominant world power. And very likely whoever comes after us will be as well.
It’s ridiculous to suggest that people should learn a second language “just because” or that not doing so makes one small-minded. It’s about as intelligent as mocking someone because they can’t play more than one musical instrument.
But no doubt it makes you feel somehow more enlightened to make such comments.
And there it is, the right wing reaction to another name change occurring in Alaska. Its an interesting mix of outright racism and the usual complaints about short-sighted thinking associated with political correctness. Some of these folks have very specific objections, and those very specific objections often seem to turn on value judgements the authors take as obvious. In the end, it does appear that respect for native communities simply isn’t very high on the priorities of a good portion of these critics. At least a couple of these guys would appear to object to that value in itself. Others clearly think other things should come first. But what strikes me most about the whole thing is the ease with which this crowd picks apart a local issue in terms of national priorities and ideological assumptions.
I keep coming back to the one person who voiced the notion that the preferences of a local community ought to control the choice of its own name. All other issues aside, I can’t help thinking that’s the winning argument in this case. It strikes me as the sort of argument I would expect a conservative to make on the subject, and this one more reason why the right wing stance in America’s culture wars always seems so disingenuous to me. For all the fretting and fuming over left wing excess in these conflicts, it is as often as not the right wing that seeks to impose national agenda to the issue at hand.
…and proceeds to tell us it is someone else that is politically correct.
Note: The comments have already changed a bit, but that’s as much as I can stomach. I should add that I got the formatting a bit scrambled, right along with my efforts to sort the comments from one another. Catia from WordPress was kind enough to help me unscramble them. Still, these quotes are a bit clunkier than I would prefer, so I must apologize. The actual quotes may of course be found on WND.
Well, after all what’s left to say? … Congratulations. 😀
“But like any other miserable person, I am apparently interested in some company, so let me share with you what I found.”
OK, here is an unexpected benefit to reading that post: now I have a more honest/accurate way to describe why I write a lot. Misery loves company. Why didn’t I think of that?
Gracias! (To which you may wish to reply, with a Spanish lilt, “Denali!”)
Skyscapes for the Soul said:
The think I find most curious is that, given that Inupiaq had originally no written language and thus most likely is taking all writing from English (did they write at all in Russian when Alaska was in Russian hands, prior to 1867?), how come it isn’t decided to write the name in a way that is easily pronounced in English? If it’s pronounced oot-GHAR-vik, why write Utqiagvik when Utgharvik/Uutgarrvik or similar variations would be so much more obvious? Just because historically, English spelling is notoriously divorced from pronunciation, doesn’t mean new words need to continue the theme.
Kathy Ward said:
Ōōt-kheagh’- vîk. The q sound comes from the back of the throat, and the g is a soft sounding g. There is no “r” or Spanish sounding rolling “r” at all.
Skyscapes for the Soul said:
Eventually there will be an international alphabet where there is a letter representing each different sound made by us variable humans!
Yeah, some sort of International Phonetic Alphabet.
Check out the International phonetic alphabet.
Maybe: utqiaʁvik ?
Entertaining post I say! lol…. 🙂
Congrats on your town’s name change. It’s nice to see a community decide to strip the white sheet of manifest destiny from a meeting place that existed long before white people (Russian or European-American) ever set feet and white sheets on this continent. 🙂
thoughts whilewaitingfortheelevator said:
Reading through the diversity of comments, it just reinforces that change in and of itself provokes controversy for some because they can’t justify a reason for change not to happen. Most of us are from somewhere else, and have to adapt to a new environment and culture. That starts with the understanding that we may never be “of the community” or as they say in Maine ” you are from away” but to join with a community is to respect the history of a place and to take a step forward. I enjoy your humor and insight and reflections for up north. Greetings from Massachusetts.
I reckon I’ll just end up calling ‘the place that starts with a ‘U’ now that we used to call Barrow.’ I grew up in North Kenai. I will always be a North Roader from North Kenai , but if you send me a letter it has to go to Nikiski.
Browsing the Atlas said:
I’m with you. I think changing the town’s name to its native name to reflect what it is to the people who live there is respectful and considerate. You’re braver than I am to look at the comments of crazy people who have an opinion on it even though it has nothing to do with them at all. It scares me when I realize that these people may also be picking our next president.
Ikonick Images said:
is this really happening
Thank you for following my blog^*^ Have a nice week!
Names have power. Just check out 75% of fairy tales…
Also I would like to nominate FreezingMyAssOff for the name of the entire state, not just one small town.
I believe the original language is so beautiful❄️there