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What’s in a name? Not Baranof, as regional group calls for name of Kodiak Park and Recreation Center to be changed

Photo: Baranof Park Recreation Center
Photo: Baranof Park Recreation Center

Kodiak’s brand new park and recreation center could get a new name, one that doesn’t include the Russian name of Baranof. The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board recommended the Baranof Park and Rec Center’s name be changed after receiving a request from a regional committee of Alutiiq people.

The Qik’rtarmiut Alutiit Regional Language Advisory Committee requested the name change based on Aleksandr Baranov’s exploitation of Alutiiq people. Baranov was the first Russian governor of Alaska and oversaw the Russian-American Company’s fur trading operations on Kodiak Island.

In a letter sent to Mayor Pat Branson last year, on March 1 of 2023, members of the committee cited Baranov’s history of exploiting Alutiiq hunters to obtain animal furs for profit and not compensating them fairly. Baranov also used Alutiiq hunters in the Battle of Sitka, in 1802, to attack the Lingit fort at Sitka which resulted in the structure being burned down and Baranov rebuilding his own fort on their land. A group of enslaved Alutiiq people were then ordered to burn down the villages of Kake and Kuiu according to the Qik Committee letter.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board discussed the request during a meeting on March 5, which was held in the Baranof Park office.
Michael Bach, who previously worked at the Kodiak History Museum and Alutiiq Museum, urged the board to change the park’s name, not only for the community but as a statement of solidarity.

“Renaming the park Wamwik would enhance the identity of Kodiak Island as a place that values diversity, inclusivity and respect for all cultures,” Bach stated. “It would send a powerful message to visitors and residents alike, reaffirming our commitment to creating a community where everyone feels welcome and appreciated.”

Dehrich Chya is one of the members of the Qik Committee. Chya said committee members are not hoping for a specific name to be chosen but want something more inclusive overall to be used. In their letter, the group said their hope, “is that the name is changed from Baranof to anything else. If any of these suggestions are not desired, we hope that another name would be developed with consideration of its history and representation from our community.”

The Qik Committee suggested three potential alternative names for the recreation facility – the Wamwik Recreation Center which means a place to play in Alutiiq, Kodiak Recreation Center, and Sun’ami Recreation Center.

The majority of the six present Parks and Recreation Advisory Board members on Tuesday wanted the name to be changed but were split on what it should be changed to. Chris Paulson, the secretary for the board, explained the final motion the advisory board settled on during this week’s meeting.

“So if you vote yes, that means you’re saying you want to amend the motion to rename the park Wamwik Park or Kodiak Community Park and forward those recommendations to the City of Kodiak. If you vote no, we will send only the one Wamwik Park recommendation,” Paulson told the advisory board.

The motion was approved and the two recommendations of Wamwik Park and Kodiak Community Park will go to the Kodiak City Council, which will open a 30-day public comment period before deciding on the final name. Chya said the Qik Committee is really excited about the progress being made by the advisory board.

Meanwhile, the city will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony at Baranof Park this Saturday at 5:30 p.m. for the new and improved recreation center. Construction began at the Baranof Park Recreation Center in July of 2022 and was finished late last year, in 2023.

Updated March 11, 2024

*Editor’s note: The wording in this story was updated slightly to better reflect the atrocities Aleksandr Baranov committed against Alutiiq people. More specific details can be found within the Qik Committee’s letter which is linked to in the article above. KMXT apologizes for any misrepresentation or misperception this article may have previously included.