FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2014, file photo, snow falls around a sign in Barrow, Alaska. A court hearing is set for Thursday, March 9, 2017, in Alaska for the two sides in a lawsuit challenging the new Inupiat Eskimo name of the nation’s northernmost town. A judge in Alaska has dealt a legal blow to opponents of the new Inupiat Eskimo name approved by voters in the nation’s northernmost town. Superior Court Judge Paul Roetman on Friday, March 10, 2017, denied a request to halt implementation of the transition from the old name of Barrow to Utqiagvik until a lawsuit filed by a local Alaska Native corporation is resolved. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2014, file photo, snow falls around a sign in Barrow, Alaska. A court hearing is set for Thursday, March 9, 2017, in Alaska for the two sides in a lawsuit challenging the new Inupiat Eskimo name of the nation’s northernmost town. A judge in Alaska has dealt a legal blow to opponents of the new Inupiat Eskimo name approved by voters in the nation’s northernmost town. Superior Court Judge Paul Roetman on Friday, March 10, 2017, denied a request to halt implementation of the transition from the old name of Barrow to Utqiagvik until a lawsuit filed by a local Alaska Native corporation is resolved. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

Judge rules against halting town’s new name

  • By RACHEL D’ORO
  • Saturday, March 11, 2017 5:10pm
  • News

ANCHORAGE — A judge in Alaska dealt a legal blow Friday to opponents of the new Inupiat Eskimo name approved by voters for the northernmost town in the U.S.

Superior Court Judge Paul Roetman denied a request to halt implementation of the transition from the old name of Barrow to Utqiagvik until a lawsuit filed by a local Alaska Native corporation is resolved.

Name change opponents argued the city broke its own laws by failing to publish a public notice before the renaming question was put on the local ballot in October. The measure won by a six votes.

Roetman said the opponents failed to show that continuing the transition process would harm them or that they would probably succeed in making their case.

He also agreed with the city’s stance that publishing notices for elections is optional, but not mandatory for anything except tax-related ordinances, and noted its long history of posting notices at seven known places around town.

“This achieves the purpose of a publication requirement to advise those interested that the matter is up for consideration, avoid hasty or ill-considered actions and to provide a reflective process giving citizens an opportunity for expression of their opinions,” the judge said at the court hearing held in the town of more than 5,000.

He noted that both supporters and critics testified at the City Council meeting where the name-change ordinance was adopted.

Roetman set a hearing for March 22 on the civil lawsuit filed by Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corp., among scores of village and regional corporations that were created by a 1971 federal law on behalf of Alaska Natives to compensate them for the loss of their lands. The compensation for all corporations included nearly 44 million acres of land and $962 million.

Matt Singer, an attorney for the village corporation, said afterward that it was too soon to say what’s next for his client, which filed the lawsuit just before the name change became effective in December.

“UIC’s disappointed in the results today and will evaluate its options and then move forward,” Singer said.

Attorney Louann Cutler, who is representing the city, said her client was pleased with the ruling even though it did not resolve the lawsuit.

“This wasn’t a question of the City Council moving off into the dark of night,” she said. “This was something subjected to quite a bit of public discussion. Even if the public is divided, there was a vote. So I was pleased the judge recognized that in his ruling.”

The corporation has argued that a lack of input from the public led to a flawed law being passed, one that didn’t even use the correct traditional name for the city. Plaintiffs say the correct word is Ukpeagvik, which means “the place where we hunt snowy owls.”

Mayor Fannie Suvlu, who was voted into office in the same October election, had proposed an ordinance to consider asking voters if the new name should be repealed. The City Council turned down the proposal in January.

Suvlu has said the council rejected her proposal after local residents had several opportunities to address the issue.

City Council member Qaiyaan Harcharek, who attended Friday’s proceeding, introduced the ordinance in August that began the process ultimately ratified by voters. Harcharek, who is Inupiat on his mother’s side, has said the new town name essentially means a place for gathering potatoes.

“Woo hoo is my reaction,” to the judge’s ruling, he said.

But as long as the lawsuit is in place, there are still holdups in the transition, he said. For example, the state has put a hold on changing driver’s licenses to reflect the new name, which Harcharek said has been a source of frustration for locals.

He believes the judge’s decision signals the plaintiffs don’t have much of a case if they proceed.

“The judge by his ruling kind of said they won’t have a chance,” he said. “Whether UIC wants to keep spending money and fighting the fight when they got denied this will be interesting.”

More in News

Bradley Walters leads the pack up Angle Hill on Wednesday, July 18, 2018, at the Salmon Run Series at Tsalteshi Trails. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Summer races kick off at Tsalteshi

The annual Salmon Run Series 5K races start on July 6 and continue every Wednesday through Aug. 3

Central Emergency Services staff wait to receive doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Assembly mulls bond for new CES fire station

Replacement of the current station is estimated to cost $16.5 million

Buldozers sit outside of the former Kenai Bowling Alley on Thursday, June 23, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Old Kenai bowling alley comes down

The business closed in 2015

Landslide debris surrounds part of Lowell Point Road on Friday, June 3, 2022, in Seward, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Assembly looks to mitigate future Lowell Point Road dangers

Assembly members approved legislation supporting agencies working to address the “repetitive hazards”

The Alaska Department of Health And Social Services building in Juneau has no visible signs indicating the department is splitting into two agencies as of Friday. Top officials at the department said many of the changes, both physical and in services, are likely weeks and in some cases months away. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Little sign of big change for DHSS

No commissioner at new department, other Department of Health and Social Services changes may take months

Nate Rochon cleans fish after dipnetting in the Kasilof River, on June 25, 2019, in Kasilof, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
King closures continue; Kasilof dipnet opens Saturday

The early-run Kenai River king sport fishery remains closed, and fishing for kings of any size is prohibited

An "Al Gross for Congress" sign sits near the driveway to Gross’ home in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, after he announced plans to withdraw from the U.S. House race. Gross has given little explanation in two statements for why he is ending his campaign, and a woman who answered the door at the Gross home asked a reporter to leave the property. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
Alaska judge rules Sweeney won’t advance to special election

JUNEAU — A state court judge ruled Friday that Alaska elections officials… Continue reading

Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion 
Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen listens to a presentation from Alaska Communications during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday, March 9, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska.
ACS pilots fiber program in certain peninsula neighborhoods

The fiber to the home service will make available the fastest internet home speeds on the peninsula

Most Read