“Without land, we are nothing.”

— Harvey Samuelsen, 1926-2004

Alaska Native Place Names Project Timeline

2003-2004: A Vision
  • BBNC Board member Harvey Samuelsen starts Board discussions about the importance of preserving Bristol Bay place names and the local knowledge of Elders.
2004: First Steps
  • BBNC Board provides initial funding to begin researching readily available names and to develop a website.
2005-2006: Gathering

BBNC, Bristol Bay Native Association, and The Nature Conservancy collaborate to collect place names from villages in the Nushagak River and Iliamna Lake Area Watersheds.

  • Watershed interns conduct interviews and gather traditional ecological knowledge and place names in Koliganek, Dillingham, Aleknagik, New Stuyahok, and Ekwok.
  • BBNC presents at the Southwest Symposium in Anchorage.
2009: Awareness
  • BBNC’s 2009 Annual Report features the nascent place names project.
2010: Audio
  • Audio files are added to the place names website to allow users to learn pronunciations.
2011: 700 Names
  • By 2011, the Place Names Project includes 700 place names.
2012: Partnering

BBNC Land Department partners with the BBNC Education Foundation to administer the Native Place Names Grant Program, offering grants up to $1,000 per project to preserve Native place names.

  • BBNC Land Manager Francisca Demoski interviews Alice Downey (originally from Dillingham) in Seattle to collect additional names.
2013: First Grant
  • Igiugig Tribal Council is the first recipient of a $1,000 Native Place Names Grant.
  • BBNC conducts a Website Atlas Workshop with Calista Elders Council.
2014: Projects
  • BBNC Land Department develops the “Yuungnaqelput Iilgayarmi” Plan focused on cultural preservation, including place names.
  • Manokotak Village Council is awarded a Native Place Names Grant.
2015: Partnering
  • BBNC signs agreements with University of Alaska Fairbanks and Lake Clark National Park and Preserve to share place names data.
  • BBNC and the Alaska Native Language Center co-host the wellattended Geographic Names Association Council Alaska Native Place Names workshop.
  • Native Place Names Grant Program increases grants to $1,000 to $5,000 per project.
2016: Outreach
  • BristolBayOnline.com website is redesigned.
  • Three Native Place Name Grant projects are funded in Newhalen, Iliamna, and Togiak.
2017: Projects
  • Two Native Place Name Grant projects are funded in Chignik Lagoon and Togiak.
  • Bristol Bay Leadership Forum includes place name presentations by Chignik Lagoon Village Council and Iliamna Lake Communities.
2018: 951 Names
  • By 2018, the Place Names Project includes 951 place names.
  • Native Place Names Grant project is funded in Igiugig.
2019: Sharing Ideas
  • Francisca Demoski and elders Mike and Anecia Toyukak present a paper on place names language preservation at the 6th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation in Honolulu, Hawai’i.
2020: Projects
  • Three Native Place Name Grant projects are funded in Togiak, Port Heiden, and Ivanof Bay.
2021: Storybook & Culture Camp
  • BBNC Land Department publishes Before Bristol Bay, a storybook describing the history and importance of place names. It includes extended descriptions of five Bristol Bay place names.
  • BBNC holds inaugural culture camp, closely tied to language and place names.
  • Two Native Place Name Grant projects are funded in Togiak and Nondalton.
2022: Alutiiq Project and Mobile App
  • BBNC Land Department, BBNC Education Foundation, and Native Village of Port Heiden partner to document Alutiiq Native Place Names and the current state of the Alutiiq language.
  • Bristol Bay Online! free mobile app is launched in Apple’s AppStore. Users can view maps, find place names in multiple languages, hear pronunciations, bookmark favorites, take quizzes, and even submit their own place names information.
  • BBNC Education Foundation holds first Indigenous Language Gathering.
  • BBNC continues to support official actions on place names through public comments and letters of support. Examples include supporting removal of derogatory names by the U.S. Department of Interior and nominating traditional place names to the Alaska State Historical Commission.
Numbers: as of 2022

1,385 names added to the website
785 audio recordings
20 communities represented
10 partners
25 elders interviewed
11 grants awarded
15+ place names presentations
5 place name languages