Local corporation sues city of Utqiagvik to halt name-change

Updated 3:29 p.m. Dec. 1: A local native corporation is suing the city formerly known as Barrow, demanding it halt the official name-change to Utqiagvik. At least for now.

The official switch from Barrow to Utqiagvik went into effect on Dec. 1, but city officials said they would hold off on changing any signs, letterhead, or anything else until the lawsuit is settled.

The suit was filed Wednesday by lawyers representing Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corporation, or UIC. In materials submitted to the state court, UIC alleges the city council voted to put the name-change on the Oct. 4 municipal ballot “without providing the required notice to the Barrow public.”

The filing also claims that after repeated requests, city officials have failed to provide any public notices or meeting minutes about the name-change ordinance from when it passed Aug. 25, a possible violation of municipal rules.

The main contention of the lawsuit is that the city council’s actions led to the “passage of a flawed law.”

UIC asserts that “Utqiagvik”, which is translated as “the place to gather wild roots,” is a corruption of the name that appears in primary sources. The suit cites 1978 testimony from an Inupiaq elder that the indigenous name was in fact Utkqiagvik, which means “the place where we hunt snowy owls.” Because of the speed with which the city council passed it’s ordinance, knowledgeable elders weren’t consulted, according to the court filings.

UIC, claims the change is costing the city money with a growing list of expenses to change signage, letter-head, and employee hours spent amending language in contracts. UIC says that’s at odds with the fiscal note attached the measure when voted on by area residents. According to an affidavit from former North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower the full cost for implementation could be in the millions.

All of this is happening as the city council itself voted Nov. 30, to bring a potential repeal of the name-change measure before voters in January. According to the motion filed with the court, the council’s meetings this week were so well attended that extra chairs had to be brought into chambers — a stark contrast to the sparsely attended August meeting. After Wednesday’s meeting, a vote on whether to repeal the name-change measure is now scheduled for Jan. 25.

The main contention of the lawsuit is that the city council’s actions led to the “passage of a flawed law,” and risks spending money to change signs, contracts, and seals that won’t be able to be recovered.

Fannie Suvlu is the mayor of Utqiagvik, and presided over the ceremonial renaming earlier Thursday afternoon. She said the city appeared in court today, but it hardly settles the matter as it waits for judgement.

“As far as money being spent on like changing signage around town I believe once we have a clearer idea of what’s actually happening in the court system I’ll have a better opportunity to address that question,” Suvlu said.

Suvlu has also introduced an ordinance to the city council that would put the issue back before voters, asking whether they’d like to repeal to name change. She said that could appear during a special election in March.

Utqiagvik city council member Qiayaan Harcharek said that members were disappointed that money was being spent by the local native corporation on the name issue.


Earlier version

Originally posted 2:24 Dec. 1: A local native corporation is suing the city formerly known as Barrow, demanding it halts the official name-change to Utqiagvik. At least for now.

The official switch from Barrow to Utqiagvik is scheduled to go into affect today.

But a temporary restraining order was filed Wednesday by lawyers representing Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corporation, or UIC. In materials submitted to the state court, UIC alleges the City Council voted to put the name-change on the October 4th municipal ballot “without providing the required notice to the Barrow public.” The filing also claims that after repeated requests, city officials have failed to provide any public notices or meeting minutes about the name-change ordinance from when it passed on August 25th, a possible violation of municipal rules.

The main contention of the lawsuit is that the city council’s actions led to the “passage of a flawed law.”

UIC asserts that “Utqiagvik”, which is translated as “the place to gather wild roots,” is a corruption of the name that appears in primary sources. The suit cites 1978 testimony from an Inupiaq elder that the indegenous name was in fact Utkqiagvik, which means “the place where we hunt snowy owls.” Because of the speed with which the city council passed it’s ordinance, knowledgeable elders weren’t consulted, according to the court filings.

UIC, claims the change is costing the city money with a growing list of expenses to change signage, letter-head, and employee hours spent amending language in contracts. UIC says that’s at odds with the fiscal note attached the measure when voted on by area residents. According to an affidavit from former North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower the full cost for implementation could be in the millions.

All of this is happening as the city council itself voted Nov. 30, to bring a potential repeal of the name-change measure before voters in January. According to the motion filed with the court, the council’s meetings this week were so well attended that extra chairs had to be brought into chambers — a stark contrast to the sparsely attended August meeting. After Wednesday’s (Nov. 30) meeting, a vote on whether to repeal the name-change measure is now scheduled for January 25th, and UIC’s lawsuit is asking for a delay in implementing the change that was scheduled to go into effect today. The risk, council members says, is to public finances, which would be impossible to recovered if spent changing a name residents ultimately reject in a few weeks.

An official ceremony recognizing the restoration of the Inupiaq name was scheduled for Thursday (Dec. 1) afternoon just an hour ahead of a 2 p.m, court hearing.

This is a developing story, check back for updates.

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