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State historical panel votes to officially recognize two Indigenous landmark names

A state historical commission took up the task of naming -- and renaming -- some landmarks in Alaska. 

Back in April 5 2021, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Planning Commission passed a resolution to officially recognize a long-used name for a lake located about 16 miles northwest of Talkeetna.

The commission recommended calling the previously unnamed lake Daltełi – or Upper Cook Inlet dialect Dena’ina for berry buds, according to the Dena’ina Noun Dictionary.

That name was forwarded along to an Alaska Historical Commission meeting (May 25, 2021), where Talkeetna resident Roger Robinson spoke in favor of adopting it.  

“The property owners around Datełi Lake support this name, and it's a name for a lake that doesn't have a name right now, and we've been calling it the Datełi for over 40 years. And the timing just seemed good and the process rate started now.”

A northern portion of the lake sits within the Denali State Park -- which borders the east side of the national park and preserve.

The commission voted to approve the proposal.

Commission-approved place names are official for the state of Alaska and are forwarded to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names for a separate review process.

The commission also recommended naming a mountain pass near Anaktuvuk Pass.

Naqsralugiaq Pass is a 3-mile-long mountain pass located on the Continental Divide in the Central Brooks Range.

Jeff Rasicproposed that name. 

He’s an archaeologist and program manager of natural and cultural resources at Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. He said that officially recognizing the name would improve aviation communication and safety.

“It was brought to the Park Service's attention by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which is working on a broad effort to name and map important passes for aviators,” Rasic said. “The Park Service recognizes the very long history of people living in this area and the names that they've put on different points in the landscape. And this is one small step to recognize that history. So it's partly aviation safety and also recognition of a piece of history.”

During winter, the pass is sometimes difficult to travel through. According to Rasic’s proposal, “As the main valley narrows slightly, north winds funnel through here, increasing their velocity, often blowing the ground nearly free of snow and also contributing to escalated windchill factors.”

A proposal to name Boulder Glacier also passed.

Two proposals suggesting Dena’ina language-based names for mountains in Southcentral Alaska failed.

One suggested naming a mountain that sits on the south shore of Kenai Lake -- Mount Nant’ina. That’s the Dena’ina equivalent of a boogey man. 

Commission member Jonathon Ross is Dena’ina and a former president and CEO of the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

“There's a story by Peter Kalifornsky in his book “Dena’ina Legacy” talks about Nant’ina, the ones who steal us. It says ‘when the fog rolls in, they sneak into the village and steal children,’” Ross said. “‘Long ago, they say when the fog set in, they would say, kids, you all get in the house, the fog is drifting in, and then Nant’ina’s breath is coming in’ and it goes on a bit.” “I also found a reference in a book of the Nondalton people, where it defined it as Nant’ina -- Athabascan or Dena’ina term for boogey man, wild man or drifter, often assumed to be from a neighboring group. These potentially malevolent creatures sneak up, scare or harm humans.”

Judy Bittner is the state historic preservation officer and serves on the commission.

She said that two Native groups -- Kenaitze Indian Tribe and Qutekcak Native Tribe, as well as the U.S. Forest Service Alaska Region all opposed the proposal.

Another proposal sought to rename two peaks in the Chugach range. In the 1950s, railroad workers registered the name Suicide Peaks for a pair of mountains southeast of Anchorage.

Palmer resident Bill Pagaran asked the commission to change the name to Yuyanq’Che’ex, which is Dena’ina for “heaven’s breath.”

Though the commission panel agreed that the name should be changed, they said Pagaran’s proposal wasn’t strong enough to pass the national registry process.

Lieutenant Governor Kevin Meyer chairs the commission:

“Even though I personally don't like having to vote no, because I think the name does need to be changed, but also I think they need to go through the process.”

The proposal failed 7-1 with one commission member absent. Proposals to name Kingsbury Creek and Creasons Glacier also failed.

The commission approved nominations to recommend adding four state sites to the National Register for Historic Places.

The sites include the Diamond NN Cannery and the Quinuyang village site -- both located in the Bristol Bay region -- as well as High Ridge cabin in Matanuska Valley, and Gould Cabin in Fairbanks. 

The proposals will go to the a National Park Service official – the keeper of the National Register of Historic Places – for deciding eligibility and whether to include the sites r on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Originally from the Midwest, Tripp Crouse (Ojibwe, a descendent of Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, pronouns: they/them) has 15-plus years in print, web and radio journalism. Tripp first moved to Alaska in 2016 to work with KTOO Public Media in Juneau. And later moved to Anchorage in 2018 to work with KNBA and Koahnic Broadcast Corporation.
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