The Western Alaska census district named for a confederate slave owner and Civil War general has a new name. Gov. Bill Walker wrote Wednesday to the Census Bureau to begin the process of changing the name from the Wade Hampton Census District to Kusilvak Census District.
The city and tribe of the largest community in the area, Hooper Bay, passed a resolution in support of a change and came up with the new local name. A recent Alaska Dispatch News article brought the history to the forefront. Local and state politicians voiced their support for shedding the name of a Confederate general whose rise to political power was in tandem with terror campaign by a violent white power group, the Red Shirts.
“Everyone knows in the early times, that man was a slaver and never had stepped into Alaska. Why should our area be named after a man we don’t even know about,” says Edgar Hoelscher, the tribal chief for the Native Village of Hooper Bay.
Hoelscher says having a local Yup’ik name honors the region’s people.
“It shows that our elders and forefather were there, and we’re still living on the ground where they were,” Hoelscher says.
Wade Hampton’s son-in-law was a territorial judge and named a nearby mining district after the South Carolina politician. The name first showed up in census data in 1920 and it stuck.
Myron Naneng leads the Association of Village Council Presidents and Sea Lion Corporation of Hooper Bay. He’s been organizing behind the scenes to get a new name.
“Kusilvak means the high one. It’s the mountain located between Scammon Bay and Mountain Village. It’s highest mountain in the area and there’s a lot of history associated with it,” Naneng says.
The name is used for statistical record keeping. There’s no regional government with the name, but it shows up in countless publications for borough-level information. That will change going forward.