Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - Last week, members of the Alaska Legislature sent a letter to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names expressing their support for renaming North and South Suicide Peaks to North and South Yuyanq’ Ch’ex.
The U.S. Board on Geographic Names unanimously passed the name change.
In the letter, Legislators said that changing the name from Suicide Peaks to Heaven’s Breath removes a thoughtless name insensitive to suicide survivors, their families, and communities suffering loss due to suicide.
Pronounced YouYonk Check, Yuyanq’ Ch’ex is an Athabascan/Dena’ina name that means “Breath from Above” or “Heaven’s Breath.
The name was selected by Elder Helen Dick, who is one of the only fluent Dena’ina speakers currently alive in Alaska.
The name is a tribute to families who have been affected by suicide and honors the Athabascan tradition of descriptive place names.
Senate President Peter Micciche said, “Although this action may seem minor to some, the renaming is an important step for families grieving due to the suicide of a family member or friend," he said. "On behalf of the Legislature, I express our profound appreciation to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names for unanimously voting to rename North and South Suicide Peaks to North and South Yuyanq’ Ch’ex. The name “Heaven’s Breath” glorifies these majestic mountains and recognizes that Alaskans value life and support those suffering from depression and grieving families far too often losing their sons and daughters to this scourge."
Representative Sarah Vance said “While we respect names of historical significance, we also recognize the unintended consequence of past names that are disparaging to human dignity. I am thrilled to see this name change that now reflects our culture and one that will have a positive impact on future generations.”
Alaska has the second highest rate of suicide deaths in the nation and Alaskan Native people suffer this tragedy up to four times the national average.
Statewide, suicide is the seventh leading cause of death, ranking above common chronic diseases.
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