Everyone who spoke at the Curyung Tribe’s talking circle on Saturday supported changing the name of a stream that runs through Dillingham.
The current name includes a slur against Indigenous women. The proposed replacement that gained broad approval was “Al’a Creek.” Al’a means older sister in Yup’ik.
“The creek, in a way she is our al’a,” Katirina Mowrer said. “The land ultimately takes care of us.”
Those gathered in person and via Zoom discussed variations on the form and spelling of “al’a,” but they agreed the new name should honor Native women.
“I think this is the beginning of some healing and boldness that we, as a tribe and members, can begin to see,” said Carol Luckhurst, a member chief of the Curyung Tribal Council.
Tribal administrator Courtenay Carty said in the meeting that the Choggiung Limited board of directors and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation also support changing the creek’s name to one the Curyung Tribal Council recommends.
Dillingham elementary students, Alora Wassily, Trista Wassily and Harmony Larson, began advocating to change the creek’s name last year. Separately, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland established a federal process last fall to review and replace derogatory names for geographic features, including streams.
In February, the Department of the Interior proposed replacement names for 660 places across the country. For the creek in Dillingham, DOI suggests naming it after nearby features—Grassy Island, Snag Point, Sheep Island, Picnic Point or Bradford Point. Those names didn’t gain any traction at Saturday’s talking circle.
The Curyung Tribal Council will finalize the name it supports for the creek next week, taking into account input from the talking circle. Then it will consult with the US Board on Geographic Names about renaming the creek on April 19.
“That’s something our tribe takes very seriously is our government-to-government relationship with the feds,” Carty said. “Our tribe also takes very seriously our relationship here with our own people. And so we wanted to make sure we have this opportunity to hear from our people, to make sure that the message we’re sending up is really our community’s message.”
DOI is accepting public comment on the replacement names for the creek through April 25 online and by mail.
Changing the name of the creek would not change the name of other features around Dillingham that share the name, notably the private road.