Birch bark texture.

Ahtna Kanas Winter 2023

Ahtna Place Name Changes

Native Village of Chitina Release

About the new place name changes to replace the word “squaw”:

Obviously, the impetus for the name changes is the recent and ongoing national effort to replace offensive placenames, such as those with the word “squaw”, with better ones.

The placenames in this region are located in the traditional territory of the lower Ahtna people, for whom the Native Village of Chitina (NVC) is the tribal authority. NVC solicited ideas for new place names from Chitina Native Corporation and Ahtna, Incorporated, then circulated the resulting suggestions for feedback. NVC then sent the recommendations to The Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force. Ahtna, Inc. also sent a letter supporting those recommendations.

The first name change is for an island at the mouth of the Chitistone River. The word Chitistone is derived from the much older Ahtna name Tsedi Ts’ese’, which means ‘copper stone’. The island is now called Tsedi Ts’ese’ Island. It is entirely appropriate that this island has been re-named to pay homage to copper. Ahtna Athabascan people collected, used, and traded copper for thousands of years. Many of our traditional copper sources came from the nearby mountains. Non-Natives later mined it from what became known as the Kennicott Copper Mine. Copper is iconic in the history of the Native and non-Native people of this area. Tsedi Ts’ese’ Island is a place name which reflects this rich cultural heritage.

The second name change was for a creek which enters the Kuskulana River. Many of Ahtna’s traditional names have been lost, and we could not discover the original name of that creek. Instead, we came up with Kuy’aa Creek. Kuy’aa is an Ahtna Athabascan word for a highly respected woman. Kuy’aa Creek translates as Respected Woman Creek. A name that respects and honors indigenous women–kuy’aa–thus replaces the insulting, denigrating word ‘squaw’.

The third place name change was for a creek near Mile 59 of the Richardson Highway. Again, there is no recorded Ahtna name for this creek, so we proposed Ts’akae Creek. Ts’akae is the Ahtna word meaning ‘woman’. It replaces a demeaning place name with a word that simply means woman, minus the insult.

We are encouraged by the decision to replace these offensive placenames–names that are so low in their spirit and intent–with names that are reflective of the rich history, culture, and achievements of our Native people, especially Ahtna women. That would go some way in repairing the historic wrong of these long held, hateful names.

Tsin’aen (Thank you),
Corina Ewan, President