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Alaska lawmakers endorse tribal push to rename Saginaw Bay

May 28, 2019

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The Alaska House has endorsed a tribe’s effort to change the name of Saginaw Bay to Skanax Bay.

Tribal leaders are pushing the change because the body of water off Kuiu Island was named for a U.S. warship that destroyed three Tlingit villages in 1869 that are near present-day Kake in southeast Alaska, CoastAlaska reported Monday.

The House passed a resolution 37-0 endorsing the name change to Skanax, the Tlingit word for security.

The Tlingit villages east of Sitka destroyed by the U.S.S. Saginaw were deserted in advance of the gunboat’s bombardment. Soldiers landed and deliberately burned winter food stores and provisions, leading to starvation, according to oral accounts.

Dawn Jackson, executive director of the Organized Village of Kake, told a House committee considering the resolution that the tribe “never relinquished to the rights to this bay.”

“It’s been a contentious history of how Saginaw (Bay) got named,” Jackson said. “And in 2018, our tribe passed a resolution unanimously to move forward, introducing and putting back on the land, our traditional name of Skanax.”

The name Saginaw “is an affront to the local Tlingit community and a source of discomfort for many residents of the Kake,” said Democratic state Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tompkins, who sponsored the resolution.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names will consider a petition for the change in July. The Alaska Historical Commission, U.S. Forest Service and others can comment before the federal board’s ruling.


This story has been corrected to show the spelling of the island is Kuiu, not Kuiui.

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