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Documenting and Practicing Vernacular Place Names in the Iliamna Lake Communities in Alaska

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Title: Documenting and Practicing Vernacular Place Names in the Iliamna Lake Communities in Alaska
Authors: Kugo, Yuko
Issue Date: 03 Mar 2017
Description: Traditionally, Alaska Native peoples have used place names to describe conditions and origins of places and to guide travelers from place to place. They name places based on their oral narratives, daily activities, and multi-generational observations of the landscape. When Western traders and explorers arrived in Alaska, they replaced Native place names with Russian and English names making natural resources extraction easier. However, many Yup’ik language speakers still use and pass down their local place names for safe travels and resource harvesting today.
This project uses a community based-participatory method to document Yup’ik place names in the Iliamna Lake communities, Alaska. The four Iliamna Lake communities in Southwest Alaska include Dena’ina, Central Yup’ik, and Alutiiq language groups. Dena’ina place names in the Iliamna-Lake Clark area are well documented; however, not many Yup’ik place names are found in the literature (Kari 2010). In this research, local place names are called vernacular place names because a place may vary according to different local usages. Native place names show the peoples’ ways of understanding the landscape and allow them to show respect for their ancestors’ lands. Place names connect Native languages and peoples to the landscape.
By documenting and understanding local place names, the Iliamna Lake residents can strengthen their connections to their land, an expression of their identity and a connection to their ancestors. Understanding the meaning of place names and using them in daily activities strengthens the interconnections among the people, their ancestors, the spiritual realm, and the ecological system as a whole. In the Yup’ik worldview, people have reciprocal relationships with the land: the peoples’ awareness of landscape and their daily activities reflect the landscape’s wellbeing (Kawagley 1995). The loss of Native languages is crucial to the loss of place names and socio-cultural connections of relationships between people and land. If Alaska Native peoples stop using traditional place names, their ability to pass on traditional environmental knowledge will be undermined. By using their local place names, the Iliamna Lake residents can strengthen their connections to their land and their ancestors’ wisdom, crucial for maintaining wellbeing in the communities.
References:
Kari, James M.
2010 Dena'ina Geography: An Introduction. In Dena'ina Elnena a cerebration: Voice of the Dena'ina. E. Evanoff, ed. Anchorage, AK: U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service Lake Clark National Park Preserve.
Kawagley, A. Oscar
1995 A Yupiaq Worldview: A Pathway to Ecology and Spirit. Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press.
URI/DOI: http://hdl.handle.net/10125/41945
Appears in Collections:5th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)



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