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One year later, Utqiaġvik keeps its name

October 20th, 2017 | Shady Grove Oliver Print this article   Email this article  

On Indigenous Peoples Day one year ago, the northernmost community in Alaska was given the green light to change from "Barrow" to "Utqiaġvik."

The election had taken place at the start of the month on an ordinance introduced by city council member Qaiyaan Harcharek.

"To do so would acknowledge, honor and be a reclamation of our beautiful language which is moribund," the ordinance's authors wrote at the time.

After the council approved its placement on the ballot, it went to a vote of the people, which is where the controversy that has ebbed and flowed over the last year began.

Initially, the vote appeared to be a tie. Once the absentee and question ballots were counted, the name change moved ahead, with the final vote count being 381 votes in favor to 375 opposed.

The canvass committee met on the first Indigenous Peoples Day in the state and certified the results, changing "Barrow" to "Utqiaġvik" on paper, if not always in practice.

The switch was meant to formally happen on Dec. 1. The day before, Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corp. filed a lawsuit in Barrow Superior Court claiming "irreparable harm" would result from the change.

A little less than a year later, that lawsuit has been settled. The city and the council members named in the suit were absolved of wrongdoing in the change, following a final judgment by the court dismissing the case with prejudice.

"The City is glad to have this controversy behind it and will continue to embrace its new name," Mayor Fannie Suvlu said in a release on Oct. 10, announcing the settlement.

For the last year, disagreements have happened on the street, on social media and within families, as to whether the town should be called Barrow or Utqiaġvik, and in some cases, Ukpeaġvik, the third name often held as true.

Many have embraced the name with pride. In the interim, the city has changed its logo and it now matches the language and culture of its new and old name, highlighting the proud Inupiat culture of its residents.

For many residents, young and old, the change brought forth conversations about colonialism, linguistic and cultural revitalization, oppression, rejuvenation and strength.

Now, the Sounder wants to hear from you. What conversations have you had over the last year about the name change? One year on, do you support the change? If not, why? What stories have you heard about the origin of any of the names this town has carried? What does the name mean to you?

If you want to share your story of the name change and this past year with us, email reporter Shady Grove Oliver at, call or text her at 951-323-4837, or find her on Facebook.

We are working on coverage of this historic event and would love to include your perspective.


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