The western Alaska census district named for a confederate slave owner and Civil War general has a new name.
Governor Bill Walker wrote Thursday to the Census Bureau to begin the process of changing the name from the Wade Hampton Census District to Kusilvak Census District. Katie Marquette is the governor’s press secretary. “That original name had no connection to the culture or history of Alaska and its people. With support of the people I mentioned, Governor Walker felt it was only appropriate that Alaska’s place names reflect and respect the diversity of our great state.”
The city and tribe of the largest community in the area, Hooper Bay, passed a resolution in support of a change and came up with the new, local name. A recent Alaska Dispatch News article brought the history to the forefront. Local and state politicians voiced their support for shedding the name of a Confederate general whose rise to political power was in tandem with terror campaign by a violent white-power group, the Red Shirts.
Edgar Hoelscher is the tribal chief for the Native Village of Hooper Bay. “Everyone knows in the early times, that man was a slaver and never had stepped into Alaska. Why should our area be named after a man we don’t even know about?”
Wade Hampton’s son in law was a territorial judge and named a nearby mining district after the South Carolina politician. That showed up in census data first in 1920 and stuck.
Myron Naneng, Association of Village Council President and Chairman of the Sea Lion Corporation, of Hooper Bay, and has been organizing behind the scenes to get a new name. “Kusilvak means the high one. It’s the mountain located between Scammon Bay and Mountain Village. It’s highest mountain in the area and there’s a lot of history associated with it.”
The peaks, which rise as high as 2200 feet, are visible from several villages and are used a landmark for traveling and navigating. Naneng says stories tell of a mole or mouse that attempted carry the mountain to the Bering Sea, but stopped short of the coast. Several nearby lakes are shaped like animal prints.
Hoelsher says having a local Yup’ik name honors the region’s people. “It shows that our elders and forefather were there, and we’re still living on the ground where they were.”
The name is mostly used for statistical and record keeping. There’s no regional government with the name, but it shows up in countless publications for borough-level information. That will change going foward. Eddie Hunsinger is the state demographer. He explains that the Census Bureau will begin to implement the new name in their records systems. “I don’t think it will be that difficult of a process. We expect that it will be in their next borough and census area release of data.”
That’s expected to be early next year. The Governor writes that he will use the new name from now on.