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Eileen Devinney, Lorry Schuerch, Tommie Sheldon Jr., Percy Jackson & Leo Jackson
Left to right: Eileen Devinney, Lorry Schuerch, Tommie Sheldon Jr., Percy Jackson & Leo Jackson

The Naming of Kiana

Tommie Sheldon Jr., Roger Atoruk, Walter Cook, Percy Jackson, and Leo Jackson talk about the naming of Kiana with William Schneider and Eileen Devinney, January 28, 2003 in Kiana, Alaska.

See also: Inez Ayagiaq Black tells a story about how Kiana got started; Tommie Sheldon's Kiana History

Bill Schneider: Today is January 28, 2003. Eileen Devinney is here. I'm Bill Schneider. And today we have the pleasure of talking about the naming of Kiana and a little bit about the history of Kiana. And we have Percy Jackson with us here. We have Roger Atoruk. We have Walter Cook, Leo Jackson, and Tommie Sheldon. So thank you all for taking the time to do this.

Last night we were talking about the naming of this place Kiana. So, at that point there was some discussion about how it might be valuable to have you talk about the naming and the different thoughts about why it was named this way. So, I'll let you go ahead.

Photo of field, boat, cabin [Photo by William Schneider]

The old village site as it looks today.

Tommie Sheldon Jr.: I'm going to try to speak English, if you can understand me later. This Kiana is a word that is supposed to be a name for this small village. Like I said, I have been drawing that old village from way back, early 1900... Because when I grow up, when I see those buildings... I see those buildings were all getting rotten already. So it must have been 1898 when the white people first came to Kiana. Qayaan, Qayaan, Qayaana. And how we get stuck on this one seems like, because we were talking about three things like: Qayaana, Katyaak, means rivers meet together, three of them, and Qayaan. We don't know which one to take, but it says Qayaana means there's. If you are talking about Qayaana, there's a point. They're talking about that Qayaan. When we were talking about Qayaana -- Katyaak means three rivers meet and I think they all had meaning in certain part of this village. Everyone one of them. Qayaan Katyaak and. So it is kind of hard to understand. But since you are talking about Qayaana, means it's right there across the river. Katyaak means together, rivers meet together. And Qayaan means, seems like somebody's name. It is hard to say because there's hundreds of years people live here. There's a few people who are supposed to be down the line from those people who live here in the village first of all. Tuluaana Sovalook and some others too. My wife is one of those people that was down the line from those people, first people from Kiana. So, I would say if you're talking about Qayaan, Katyaak and -- they all have meaning right here in this same village.

Bill Schneider: That's very helpful.

Roger Atoruk: From what I heard about Qayaan, naming of Qayaan, it's named for that point across the river. The point that we were talking about last night. The name of that point is Qayaana, Qayaan. There's lots of names, Eskimo names, all around Kiana. There's Auktuutaiyaq, Aplibaitchiaq, Iyaaqtubvik, Sallieiq. There's all kinds of names and the name for that point across from the village here is Qayaana, Qayaan for short. And it is named Qayaana. And Katyaak is where the rivers meet.

Aerial photo of Kobuk River, Qayaana the point, and village of KianaPhoto Courtesy of Kay Kennedy Collection, 91-098-337, Archives,
University of Alaska Fairbanks

The Kobuk River makes a funny bend at Kiana and the Squirrel River flows into the Kobuk River just to the east of town. The abrupt bend of the Kobuk River makes it appear as though it is a place where three rivers meet, although it is really just the two rivers converging.

USGS map showing location of Qayaana

There's lots of Katyaaks in this area all over. Up the river, down river. There are a lot of Katyaaks. So that's from what my father told me. My father died in 1991. He was 86 years old. He told me that this village is named for that point across the village, Qayaana. The white people when they come here, the miners, I guess, -- maybe the Eskimos name is Qayaana. They hear the white people hear the Eskimos talking about Qayaana and they call it Kiana for that Qayaana. That's the way I understand it. That's how I understand Kiana got its name. The Eskimo name is Katyaak, because it is where the rivers meet. That's what my father told me when, that was before he died. He told me a lot of things about the names of the places around here. He even took me up the river all the way up to Hunt River, and tell me the names of certain places. There's an Eskimo name for every bend. Name for the land there and right across it there is a name--; a name for every bend. And that's how the Eskimos name all the places around here. You ever hear about Doug Anderson. Doug Anderson. I took Doug Anderson up the river with my boat and I tell him about all the names that I know of. And he put it on; We stop every bend. It took us all day to get up to Hunt River. Sometimes we'd stop and then we'd argue. He'd say that's not the name, according to the map that's not its name. And I say, that's the way I heard it from the Eskimos. And then all the way up to Hunt River, there's a name for every place -- across there, all over. So I think Doug Anderson got it on a map. That's the way I heard Kiana got its name. And last summer I was talking to Esther Norton in Kotzebue. Her maiden name is Kiana. She said that Kiana is named for her grandfather, but I don't know. I think Percy got something to say about this. [Inupiaq to Percy]

Percy Jackson: [Inupiaq]

View of the Kobuk River from Kiana.

[Photo by Eileen Devinney]Photo of river and boats

Roger Atoruk: Ok, Percy thinks that what I say is the way he's heard it from the old people.

Tommie Sheldon Jr.: I want to add a little more of what I know. This is not the only three rivers meet, here in Kobuk River. There are three of them over in Selawik, like [Silibvik, Tavravik, Kugruaq] where the Qayaana -- Katyaabmiit means right there where the rivers meet. Same kind. Three rivers meet. Qayaana, over there. But there's nobody living there. There's people living in Selawik, That's why they never mention that Qayaana not too often because nobody live over there. Here we are living in -- Katyaabmiut they call us. Katyaak, Katyaak means Qayaana. Katyaak, yeah.

Bill Schneider: Thank You.

Eileen Devinney: Did you learn that.

Tommie Sheldon Jr.: And I know Roger is talking sense.

Eileen Devinney: I know yesterday there was some discussion, was it three rivers or two rivers. And I wondered if anyone sees a difference.

Photo of Qayaana, the point, Kobuk River and Squirrel River

[Photo courtesy of Lorry Schuerch Jr.]

At the far left is the mouth of the Squirrel River. Straight ahead and at the right (on either side of Qayaana) is the Kobuk River (there is that sandbar in the middle of the Kobuk River).

Roger Atoruk: Actually, it's just two rivers. Those two across from the village there, they're both Kobuk River. They both come from the Kobuk River. And there's only one river, that Squirrel River, that goes up that towards north. From the east, that's actually one river, but it's got two mouths. It's seven and a half miles up the river, it just comes apart and come into Kiana. And that's why it's called Katyaak.

Eileen Devinney: It does look funny from... It's an odd way the rivers come together, so.

Bill Schneider: Walter, do you want to add something?

Walter Cook: Yeah. As I was growing up, you know, we went to my Native language when I was small. They used to call it Katyaak. That's how I learned it from our Native people. And then later on, the point they are talking about right across from the village it was Qayaan, Qayaana. And all these years, seems like these other villages, surrounding villages always call our Native people Katyaabmiit. The name for that three rivers. And I think the main purpose of this meeting here is I guess Qayaana was the main name for Kiana. I agree with these people, you know, because they are older than me so they know more about this place here.

Group PhotoBill Schneider: Good. Good. Should we.

Eileen Devinney: Does Leo have anything? Leo, did you.

Bill Schneider: Leo, we forgot you.

Leo Jackson: [Inupiaq] Only thing I heard is what Roger and Tommie told. That's the way I heard it. No one else has told me any different stories about this Kiana. Yeah. This must be it. I don't know of anything else to add.