Aleutian Island’s Unangan Name Restored

Four years ago, Rat Island’s namesake rodents were eradicated. Now, the name is being done away with as well.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names officially dubbed the remote Aleutian island Hawadax, an Unangan word meaning “entry” or “welcome.” That was the island’s traditional name, before a Japanese shipwreck in 1780 unleashed a plague of rodents.

“People from Atka had used the name Hawadax in relation to that island even as late as the 1950s,” says Karen Pletnikoff.

She requested the name change on behalf of the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association and the Aleut Corporation. Pletnikoff says response to the proposal was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.

“I think the revitalization of the Aleut culture comes in many forms and this – renaming Rat Island to Hawadax – is just one more step in that process of cultural revitalization and of being more accurate, now that there are no rats on Rat Island.”

An eradication campaign led by the federal government and environmental groups wiped out the rodents in 2008. Today, native seabirds are recolonizing the uninhabited island’s rocky cliffs.

Download Audio