Alaska historian hopes to change offensive WWII-era name of remote Aleutian creek

a creek
The roughly half-mile-long Nazi Creek on Little Kiska Island flows southeast into the Pacific Ocean. Historian Michael Livingston has applied to rename the creek. (From USGS)

Michael Livingston is proposing Nazi Creek on Little Kiska Island be renamed to reflect the island’s Unangax̂ name — “Kangchix̂,” which translates to gizzard.

The map enthusiast said he’s not certain where the island’s traditional name comes from, but he has some theories.

“My guess is that someone was hunting there on Little Kiska Island, and one possibility is that they were able to catch an animal and found gizzards,” Livingston said. “And the other possibility, of course, is that the island might be, or part of the island might be, shaped in a gizzard, whether that’s from a top-down or side look, it might have reminded someone of a gizzard.”

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Livingston frequently works with and edits maps. He said he stumbled upon this creek while looking at maps of the Aleutian Islands.

“As soon as I saw it, I knew that something was wrong and it wasn’t appropriate and needed to be changed,” he said.

During World War II, Japanese soldiers occupied the Attu and Kiska islands. That was some of the only U.S. land claimed by Japan during the war. Little Kiska Island is about 240 miles east of Attu and just southeast of Kiska.

According to a recent Twitter post from Alaska historian David Reamer, the U.S. Army used an arbitrary grid-naming system when naming landmarks for their purposes. All the place names within the area began with the letter assigned to that spot in the grid. In this case, that would be “N.” He says the term “Nazi” was likely on soldiers’ minds at the time.

But Livingston said he doesn’t buy that reasoning.

“It wasn’t appropriate in the 1940s, and it’s certainly still not appropriate in the 2020s,” he said.

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Livingston has submitted a name-change request to the Alaska Historical Commission and to the United States Board on Geographic Names. He said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which owns the roughly half-mile-long creek, doesn’t object to the change. The Aleut Corporation, which Livingston said owns a small portion of the island, has also written a letter in support of the new name.

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