Nome starts drafting a Historic Preservation Plan
With the recent creation of the Nome Historic Preservation Commission — placed within the existing Nome Planning Commission — Nomeites are now called upon to define historical and cultural sites, events, buildings, objects and landscapes that helped shape the storied and unique history of this place, and to devise a plan to preserve those manifestations of its history and cultures.
Last week, the Nome Historic Preservation Commission invited to a public meeting at Old St. Joe’s to begin the process of formulating the plan.
Planning commission chairman Kenny Hughes addressed the assembled group of about 15 interested citizens and said that the plan’s purpose is to identify historical and cultural resources and to define and locate what’s important to Nomeites to tell their story. “There are so many different threads,” said Hughes. “There is the history of the Native people, the military history, the Gold Rush. There are so many different historical threads and wound together it becomes the rope that is our history.”
He asked the participants to help identify items, locales, events and other things “to find physical tracks of what we think is part of our history.”
City Planner Monica Faix was on hand to provide further information. The State Historic Preservation Office recently designated Nome as a Certified Local Government. This provided the context to the historic preservation commission’s formation. The first role of the commission is to develop a historic preservation plan. The introduction prompted a philosophical discussion among participants of their perspectives of Nome’s history and its conclusion: Nome is a collage of different cultures, none being more important than the other and each has a distinct story to tell with its places, events, artifacts, buildings or objects.
Jake Kenick said that growing up in Nome, he perceived it as boring, but after entering the Navy and traveling the world, he was humbled to see that his little hometown was world famous and unique in its history. “In Dubai, somebody asked me if I know Jim West, and I thought ‘Are you kidding me?” he said.
Planning Commissioner Mat Michels concurred and added that most of the interesting things he learned about home was when he left Nome. “I didn’t know about the Dream Theater and the segregation until I went to college in Montana,” Michels said. Full appreciation of one’s home only comes when people realize the grass is not greener on the other side after having been to the other side. It made Michels realize one trait of Nome that is not found in many places any longer: He called it’s “crazy hospitality” that manifests in people waving at each other when on the road and nobody locking their doors or their cars.
Sue Steinacher, who designed the Nome Welcome sign at the airport pointed out that the sign purposefully states that Nome lies at “the crossroads of cultures and continents” due to its close proximity to Russia’s Far East. And as many places that find themselves at cultural cross roads, Nome is enriched by different customs, viewpoints and languages.
Yaayuk Bernadette Alvanna-Stimpfle spoke at length about her King Island heritage and what it meant to grow up in Nome after all King Islanders relocated from the island to Nome in 1959 when the BIA closed the school. Her family, she said, moved to Nome earlier, when her father was diagnosed with cancer. In order to ensure survival of his family – a woman with children on King Island needs a male provider — he moved his family to Nome. But she remembered King Island folks talking about Mrs. Carrie McLain who welcomed the King Islanders with a plate of cookies every summer once they landed their umiaks on the beach in Nome. Alvanna-Stimpfle also talked about the segregation in Nome, when King Islanders were forced to live on the East end of Nome. She described the effort it took for her people to adapt to life in Nome. Where do women go to pick greens and berries? Where and how far do the hunters have to go out to find walrus and seals? She added that the darker chapters of history should not be forgotten. “Historical trauma has happened to our people and you see the results on Front Street,” she said.
Through a tightly knit King Island community and the continuation of their dances, they survived by adaptation and “Nome would not be Nome without or own people,” she said.
“Past the Seawall, where Wylie Scott’s house is, that’s where Inupiaq was spoken, everything west was English,” she said. Her generation is the last generation that is fluent in Inupiaq, she said. English is a surface language, but deeper meanings of places, names, activities and weather or land conditions are better conveyed in Inupiaq.
This prompted a discussion on a way to perpetuate places, historic events or land characteristics through the use of original Inupiaq place names on signs throughout Nome.
In order to place physical reminders of the multi-cultural nature of Nome, there were suggestions to add Inupiaq street or place names, or place plaques on historically important sites in English and Inupiaq or Siberian Yupik.
Carol Piscoya added that there is vast documentation on place names – burial grounds, fish camp names and site names. Years ago, when she worked for Nome Eskimo Community, they had a grant to create such a map with Eskimo place names.
Leon Boardway jumped in and observed that “Nome has always pushed the white man’s culture” and that we need to recognize that it consists of mixed cultures. On a more practical note, he added that he’d like to see Nome cleaning itself up and make it more family friendly. He would like to see Middle Beach be named Ada Blackjack Park and he envisions little meditation parks strewn all across town.
The meeting concluded with the resolve to find all the strands or threads that make the rope that is Nome’s history in order to preserve it for the present and the future.