Inquiry Student Research

A Name for Home: King Island

If identity is linked to places on the landscape, names for those places become part of shared culture. An OSU research project has helped to document the culture of King Island, Alaska.

Deanna Kingston, OSU Dept. of Anthropology (photo taken in 2006)
Deanna Kingston, OSU Dept. of Anthropology (photo taken in 2006)

By Lee Anna Sherman

The official launch of the King Island Place Name website Monday afternoon in the Memorial Union was the culmination of a decade of research led by OSU anthropologist Deanna Kingston, whose ancestors were among the walrus hunters who once populated the now-deserted Alaskan island.

The personal and professional magnitude of the project came to life as the site was projected on a screen before a gathering of colleagues, family members, students and friends. An interactive map of the tiny island in the Bering Sea was dotted with nearly 200 place names that have been collected and documented by researchers working with elder natives who grew up on the island. Audio clips let users hear native speakers pronouncing the words in a dialect of Inupiaq. The site also features a gallery of thousands of photos documenting the plants and birds native to this place where tusked pinnipeds were hunted for centuries on massive ice floes during winter months. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation.

Kinsgton’s mother, son and uncle were on hand to celebrate the site’s unveiling, as were a legion of students and collaborators. Kingston, who wore a jaunty hat in place of the hair she has lost during her battle with breast cancer, choked up when she thanked the people who have worked with her tirelessly to save the linguistic and geographic history of this unique place.

“I told myself I wasn’t going to cry,” Kingston said, smiling sheepishly. “I guess I should just cry and get it over with.”

Read “The Ice Sages,” a 2007 Terra story about the King Island community and Kingston’s research.