Advancing Native place names in Alaska

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Advancing Native Place Names in Alaska

Advancing Native Place Names in AlaskaGary Holton, Lawrence Kaplan, and James KariAlaska Native Language CenterUniversity of Alaska Fairbanks

COGNA 2013, Minneapolis

20 indigenous (Native) languages spoken in AlaskaAlaska Native Language CenterFounded 1972 with the mission:study languages native to Alaskadevelop literacy materialsassist in the translation of important documentsprovide for the development and dissemination of Alaska Native literaturetrain Alaska Native language speakers to work as teachers and aides in bilingual classrooms to teach and support Alaskas twenty indigenous languages

Still the only statewide organization devoted to Native language study3

Alaska Native Language ArchiveLargest repository of ANL documentation~ 1500 linear ft. manuscripts, including nearly everything written in or about Alaska Native languages~ 5000 recordingsAlaska Native Place Name projectGoal: create comprehensive database of Alaska Native place name documentation, whether official or not

Worthy goal, but will take many years to achieve5Language Families in AlaskaInuit (Eskimo-Aleut) 5 languagesNa-Dene (Athabascan-Eyak-Tlingit)13 languages plus 30+ others in Canada and lower 48HaidaTsimshian

The blue and red regions can be seen a little better here. As you can see, most of Alaska is occupied by two large language families, known as Eskimo-Aleut, or simply Inuit, and Na-Dene, or Athabascan-Eyak-Tlingit. Haida and Tsimshian -- more recent immigrants to Alaska -- are not part of either of these families. Inuit and Na-Dene are tow of the largest language language families in North America, both in terms of numbers of speakers and land area. Inuit languages spread all the way across the arctic, beginning about 500 BC and reaching east Greenland around 1500 AD. Na-Dene language spread south through western Canada, with outliers reaching down the Pacific Coast in California and Oregon and into the desert southwest, reaching these southern areas not long before the Inuit reached east Greenland.GNIS lists 31,004 official (geographic) names in AlaskaSignificant (but unknown) number of these are of native-originTotal number of indigenous names much largerExtrapolating from Ahtna region (234 names / m ha.) to the entire state we expect approx. 39,000 namesProbably a lower limit, since many coastal areas show much higher densities (e.g., King Island 163,000 / m ha.)

Place names in AlaskaOfficial names approved in AlaskaNative-origin namesOriginal names Official with Anglicized spelling (Talkeetna)Unofficial with Anglicized spelling (Denali)Official with Anglicized spelling and English generic (ChenaRiver)Official with proper spelling and English generic (KesugiRidge)Official with proper spelling (Troth Yeddha)Coined namesNative-origin but not traditional (Ashana Lake, Tsaani Creek)Mis-placed Native namesAshana is a pretty made up name from Denaina for flowerTsaani was coined to replace Squaw Creek. Derives from Ahtna black bear (GNIS just lists bear). Actual Ahtna name is Xelt'aats'i Na', literally water lily creek; original proposer listed Chawnee Creek 9Eliminating pejorative namesNative names provide an excellent source to replace English names which are considered pejorativeTsaani Creek (Ahtna, 2009)Too Hanshyah Mountain (Gwichin, 2012)ochenyatth Creek (Lower Tanana, 2012)Confusion in GNIS, reference to Lower Tanana Gwichin language10Previously unnamed featuresActual Native namesKesugi Ridge (Denaina, 2002)Taq Nustin Moutain (Denaina, 2008)Ciissinraq River (Yupik, 2008)Nen Yese Ridge (Ahtna, 2011)Gandlay Hanaa (Haida, 2012)Hawadax Island (Aleut, 2012)Troth Yeddha (Lower Tanana, 2012)Thachkatnu (Denaina)Coined namesAshana Lake (Denaina, 2009)Chakajabena Mountain (Denaina, 2005)Mount Chichantna (Denaina, 1999)Mount Nagishlamina (Denaina, 1999)named after Chichantna River, but not the Native name for the mountain named after Nagishlamina River; native name of mountain unknown; Kari posits Nahqashla little lookout as being located west of mouth of Nagishlamina River, so not this mountain 11

AnglicizationChanged from ach Qatnu by cartographer (Imus Geographics)Then officially adopted based on Anglicization

Thachkatnuach Qatnu12Misplaced Native namesMany apparent Native names are not actually the correct name for the featureChakajabena Mountain adopted in 2005, based on name for nearby lakeProposal prompted change Chakachamna Chakajabena Lake

The native-origin name does not always equal the Native name7188 ft. peak S of Chakachamna Lake Visible from AnchorageFirst ascent in 2004Some discrepancy in elevation (climbing report lists 7530 ft.)13

Chakajabena MountainChakaja Bena DghiluMisplaced Native namesThere IS a Chakajabena Mountain (the Denaina name used the Denaina generic for mountain, dghilu), but it is located North of the lake, not South.14

Chakajabena DghiluChakajatnuChakajabenaChakaja tail extends outChakajabena LakeChakachatna RiverThree Denaina names exist as a cluster, following typical Athabaskan place naming strategy which creates binominal names using a single specific term (in this case chakaja) paired with various generics.15Village NamesAtqasuk, downslope, replaces Meade RiverNuiqsut, things speared, replaces Nooiksut (should be Nuiqsat)Nanwalek, one with lagoon, replaces English BayNunam Iqua, lands end, replaces Sheldons PointIndigenous Peoples and Languages of Alaska map (2011) lists over 250 village names in proper orthography

GNIS lists 47 variants7 of these are Native namesDeenaalee (Koyukon)Dinadhit (Lower Tanana)Denaze (Upper Kuskokwim)Denadhe (Holikachuk)Dengadhiy (Deg Xinag)Dghelaay Cee (Ahtna)Dghelay Kaa (Denaina)


Native names are steeped in historyTroth Yeddha

DeenaaleeDeenaalee BeotNative names reflect a unique view of the landscapenenaa its longsoogholnaa its long enoughbekanaale muskrat

Official Native namesA more manageable programSimple, straightforward strategy for creating database of Native names for officially named featuresIdentify Native-origin names in GNIS databaseIf name = Native name, flag itIf variant = Native name, flag itOtherwise, add proper variant and flag itCould be used to easily create a map with Native names or Native name variantsCould be done easily using existing knowledgeA more manageable goal, augment GNIS database to incorporate privileged variants.20Talkeetna RiverVariantChunilna CreekIdelcuut NaKdalkitnuKdalkitnu TluTalkeet RiverTalkeetno RiverTalkitnuTalkutna RiverWhich is the correct Native name?Determining the correct variant is not always easy. I dont want to be so nave as to claim that there is only one correct name. I use the word correct here in the sense of, which name would you choose for a map if you were making a map which included native names? Consider the names for Talkeetna River, a major tributary of the Susitna with a mean flow of 4000 cfs.21Talkeetna RiverVariantCitationChunilna CreekOrthIdelcuut NaKari &Fall 2003KdalkitnuKari & Fall 2004Kdalkitnu TluKari & Fall 2003Talkeet Rivern/aTalkeetno Rivern/aTalkitnuOrthTalkutna Rivern/aIs it easier if we know the citation?22Cook InletBaie KenaiskaiaBaie de CookCooks ArmCooks InletCooks RiverDanseGroosgincloseKenai BayKenaiaskoi GolfeKenaischev TtunaiskychKenaiskischerKenaiskischev MeerbusenNutiNuti TikahtnuSund KenaiTikaatnuTikahtnuToo Chux BoghaZaliv KenayskoyCook Inlet has 19 variant names23Cook InletBaie KenaiskaiaBaie de CookCooks ArmCooks InletCooks RiverDanseGroosgincloseKenai BayKenaiaskoi GolfeKenaischev TtunaiskychKenaiskischerKenaiskischev MeerbusenNutiNuti TikahtnuSund KenaiTikaatnuTikahtnuToo Chux BoghaZaliv KenayskoyPossible Native names in bold; which is correct?5 of these 24

Kuskokwim RiverChin-anan/aDechena NekaKari 1999Dechenaa NeegeKari 1999Dechenaa NeekaKari 1999Dechenaa NoKari 1999DichinanekANLA 2011DichinanekaKari & Fall 2003DichinanoKari 1999DegeneghKari 1999DjeneghKari 1999KenaniqKari 2007Kugikukvik RiverOrthKugikukwik RiverOrthKusququvakJacobson 1984Ryka KuskokvimOrthTtychannanikaKari & Fall 20035 of these 25SummaryThere is growing public interest in Native names in AlaskaExisting resources are difficult to use and do not identify the correct Native nameCreating a comprehensive gazetteer will be a monumental work (though see Bright 2004)However, creating an authoritative reference for those places which already have official names (whether Native or not) is a manageable taskCan be accomplished by simply recognizing privileged authoritative variant within GNIS


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