BARROW, Alaska (KTUU) - Voters in Barrow have narrowly approved an ordinance to rename the city Utqiaġvik, according to final results from the city clerk’s office.
Utqiagvik (pronounced Oot'-kee-ahg'-vick) is Barrow's traditional Iñupiaq name.
The ordinance, which appeared on the October 4 ballot, originally failed in preliminary results. But it passed by 381 votes to 375 after absentee and question ballots were counted. A resolution adopting the name change was signed by Mayor Bob Harcharek on Monday, a day proclaimed as Indigenous Peoples Day by Governor Bill Walker.
The ordinance says “changing the name of the City to Utqiaġvik will promote pride in the identity of the Iñupiaq people as well as perpetuate healing and growth and help promote awareness of the Iñupiaq language.”
The legislation was originally introduced by Barrow City Council member Qaiyaan Harcharek. The council approved the ordinance for the October ballot on August 25, according to public records.
Harcharek says the idea first came to him during a trip he recently took to Scotland and Wales.
“They’ve been very successful in the revitalization of their Gaelic and Welsh languages. Once you get into those communities, their language was extremely visible,” he told Channel 2. “That’s where my initial idea is derived from."
Harcharek, who is himself not fluent in his native language, said he wanted to do something as a city leader to help grow Iñupiaq language and culture in Barrow.
“Essentially, it was a way to acknowledge, honor and reclaim our Iñupiaq language,” he said. “The biggest thing it would do is help perpetuate the healing and growth and help promote awareness of our Iñupiaq language.”
Passing by a margin of six votes, the ordinance attracted some opposition from the community. Harcharek said many voters saw the proposal as unnecessary or too costly.
“There’s been some pushback from individuals,” Harcharek said. “Some folks had mentioned how it’s going to cost the city quite a bit of money to do so… Some folks were concerned with the name change affecting possible grants and receiving of money, but there’s absolutely no reason why a name change would do so.
With the ordinance eventually passing despite wide criticism, Harcharek says the name change is a historic achievement.
“These traditional names mean a lot to me and my people. It’s unfortunate when you open a map and you see this sea of names that aren’t of the local people.” He said. “Being on the city council there was an opportunity there where I could make something like that happen.”
The ordinance is now on the desk of Lt. Governor Byron Mallott, who has 45 days to approve the name of Alaska’s northernmost city. Once that’s completed the city can begin the process of changing signage and maps to reflect the new name.