Rural Alaska

Barrow voters support name change to 'Utqiagvik'

Voters have set in motion the process of changing the name of the northernmost community in Alaska from the English "Barrow" back to the Inupiaq "Utqiagvik."

The canvass committee certified the results of the city's primary election showing voters approving the name-change ordinance. The action came on Monday, which was Indigenous People's Day.

"It reclaims our beautiful Inupiaq language," said Mayor Bob Harcharek.

In late August, city council member Qaiyaan Harcharek introduced the ordinance. As the Sounder reported following that meeting, the ordinance's authors wrote:

"To do so would acknowledge, honor and be a reclamation of our beautiful language which is moribund."

The authors also acknowledged that Inupiaq is the "original, ancestral language of this area and our people" and that returning to Utqiagvik would "promote pride in identity" and would "perpetuate healing and growth from the assimilation and oppression from the colonists."

[Barrow council weighs changing city name, signage from English to Inupiaq]


Some opponents of the measure were concerned the name change would cost the city money, both in terms of changing all official references to the name on things like stationery and signage, and the loss of emotional capital or recognition that come along with the name Barrow for tourism and business.

In the unofficial results, the votes were tied, but after all of the absentee and questioned ballots were reviewed, the yes votes took a narrow lead.

The ordinance ultimately passed with 381 votes in favor to 375 votes opposed.

There are still several steps that must be taken, including the city communicating with state officials, before the name change will come to fruition.