Barrow votes to change name to Utqiagvik

Utqiagvik, the city formally know as Barrow, AK (File photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
(Utqiagvik, the city formally know as Barrow, AK (File photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Utqiagvik. That’s the name that Barrow will now be identified as.

By a margin of six votes, residents of Barrow have voted to change the name of their city back to its Inupiaq name. City council member Qaiyaan Harcharek started the process this summer.

Listen Now

TOWNSEND: I realize that Inupiaq words may not have a direct translation into English, but tell us about the meaning behind the name of your city now.

HARCHAREK: I guess it goes back to a conversation that some folks were having in the 1978 Elder’s Conference, and that question was asked, “What does Utqiagvik mean?”. One gentleman had mentioned that, as he recalled, it was as the whaler and outsiders began coming to Barrow and bringing in other good, including different Western food, one of them was potatoes, and i believe the word for potato was oatkuk, and we also collect different types of roots that are starches and so-forth. And it had to do with potatoes and a place to gather potatoes.

TOWNSEND: Before absentee and questioned ballots were counted, the vote was tied. What were the objections to changing the name?

HARCHAREK: There’s some folks that are afraid of change and change is often times a daunting task and I believe it stems back to how well of a job that the missionaries and the Western folks in BIA schools, how good of a job they did at assimilating our people. And so, Barrow’s name came from Sir John Barrow from Frederick Neitzsche naming this area after a buddy of his and that took. And I think it has deeper meaning to that than that our people were severely punished from speaking our traditional language for many years. And a lot of those folks that are around today don’t have that internal oppression where they’re afraid of that.

TOWNSEND: Qaiyaan, why is this important?

HARCHAREK: It’s important to me and many of us because our language is severely threatened and I think it’s time we begin healing and this is a literal step into to that decolonization.

TOWNSEND: How excited are you about making this transition?

HARCHAREK: I’m extremely excited. It’s a time for our people for that decolonization process to begin. The reclaiming and honoring of our ancestral language and it’s exciting for it to happen on what people are calling Indigenous Peoples’ Day was extremely serendipitous and it means a lot.


Reporter Shady Grove Oliver first wrote about the name change for the Arctic Sounder.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 24 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori