Interior river could get Gwich’in name back

FAIRBANKS — The Alaska Historical Commission has been asked to consider renaming a 344-mile river in Alaska’s Interior from the Birch Creek river to its Gwich’in name.

The commission also is expected to take up whether to rename one of the river’s side channels during a meeting Nov. 16.

Under the proposals, the main body of the Birch Creek river would be renamed the Ikheenjik (Ih-hey-n-jik) River. Another section, known as Lower Mouth Birch Creek, would be renamed K’iidoontinjik (ey-dough-tin-jik) River, the Fairbanks Daily News reported.

Birch Creek flows from near Central to the Yukon River, with 110 miles in its upper section designated as a federal wild and scenic river.

If the changes are approved, the new names would become official in Alaska. The U.S. Board of Geographic Names would have to accept the names if they were to be recognized at the federal level and used on U.S. Geological Survey maps.

Edward Alexander of Fort Yukon is former second chief of the Gwichyaa Zee Gwich’in Tribal Government and a student of the Gwich’in language. He proposed the name changes and has worked on other name-change efforts.

“The more place names that we can restore, the better,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of richness in our history and our culture and it would be nice to share that with other people.”

In his pitch to rename Birch Creek, Alexander said there are 11 other streams in Alaska officially known as Birch Creek.

This is Alexander’s second attempt before the commission to rename the river. The commission did not approve his prior attempt in 2014.

He has the support this time of regional groups including the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments and the Tanana Chiefs Conference. He also hopes the city of Fairbanks will pass a resolution supporting the name changes.

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