CIRI in the Community: Indigenous Place Names Project

Adapted from an article by the Anchorage Park Foundation

For more than a decade, CIRI shareholder Aaron Leggett (Dena’ina Athabascan) has been working to weave Dena’ina language into the fabric of Anchorage. Leggett, who serves as chair and CEO of the Native Village of Eklutna and as senior curator of Alaska history and Indigenous culture at the Anchorage Museum, reached out to the Anchorage Park Foundation to introduce place names to parks and trails. In 2018, the Rasmuson Foundation donated a gift to get the project started.

The first signs have been installed at Chanshtnu Muldoon Park and Westchester Lagoon. The sign features artwork by CIRI descendant Melissa Shaginoff (Ahtna Athabascan). Her metal sculpture encircling the post is inspired by the dentalium bead pattern and the Dena’ina fire bag. Fire bags were used by the Dena’ina people to store and transport fire-making materials like tinder and embers; the bag represents living with the land. The “Chanshtnu” sign shares the Dena’ina place name for Chester Creek (“Chanshtnu” means “grass creek”). The sign also features Dena’ina phrases: “You are walking on Dena’ina land” and “Living with the outdoors.” Phrases were supplied by CIRI shareholder Joel Isaak (Dena’ina Athabascan), an artist and Dena’ina linguist.

Opening Ceremony

More than 150 community members attended the opening ceremony of the Indigenous Place Making project Aug. 3 at Westchester Lagoon. The celebration was led by Leggett and featured performances by Dena’ina artists and speakers, including the Ida’ina K’eljeshna dance group led by CIRI shareholder Steven Holley (Dena’ina Athabascan).

How to Get Involved

The Anchorage Park Foundation is looking for organizations and individuals who want to support both the larger Indigenous Place Names movement and the specific Dena’ina signage project. CIRI is proud to be a contributor, and CIRI shareholder and employee Darla Graham (Yup’ik) serves on the Project’s advisory committee. For more information or to get involved, visit or email [email protected].