A Place by any Other Name

by Louie Andrew

There was a notice of sorts some years back in the local newspaper (Tundra Drums) in spring concerning dogs having rabies or the possibility of rabies within the Bethel city limits. Rabies is a very serious disease among animals of certain kinds and worse if a person was bitten by one of these rabid animals.

The local newspaper quoted the lady health officer from OEH-YKHC, “that one section of the town (Louse town) as likely most susceptible for dogs to be affected by this disease.” True, most all dogs are susceptible.

The health officer singled out “Louse town” as the most likely place for dogs to have rabies. In other parts of Bethel, we have much larger kennels susceptible as well as loose dogs all over town. She most likely looked up the map put out by the Bethel Chamber of Commerce (BCC).

I was born and raised in Bethel and I live in that section of the town as my mother and father before me. There was only a footpath on that far end and a very few homes before a road was built. Bethel was a very small community.

Now times have changed where Bethel is a “city” amidst the villages of the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta. Places and names change or disappear, some good, some bad and sometimes derogatory. Like Honey Bucket Lake, but it isn’t printed on the map.

For us who live “across the slough” or East Avenue, are the ones affected and put down each and every time when someone or an agency says that we are from “Louse Town”. How this came about might have originated out of the mouth of a clean and holy missionary or from an individual insensitive to the people back then at the time.

People all over the delta including myself experienced the plague of lice at one time. Now today, even our schools experience outbreaks of lice occasionally. How would you feel if some company or agency considered Bethel which you consider as home, as the armpit of southwest Alaska? I’ve seen that printed somewhere. Not very good.

The Bethel Chamber of Commerce has a brochure about Bethel and it contains a map listing all the places of interest and businesses, etc. and names of certain areas of Bethel. On the map is “Louse Town”. We’ve been made fun of and laughed at because of it. It should be removed. It is offensive and demeaning when this type of insensitivity happens and perpetuated by those who do not care as well as discriminatory to the people who live there.

We also happen to have people in that area who have respectable locally owned businesses contributing to BCC (without lice) who may have taken offense.

When that comment was made, I had sent this “A Place by Any Other Name?” to the paper, it was printed. It seems BCC don’t read. We have the potential and the ability to make a formal complaint against BCC to have the derogatory name removed from all the brochures. Everything looks and seems respectable except us who live there.

The native name for across the slough, or more correctly, across the creek is “Aagurmiut” and the other side “Urucararmiut”. Mamterillermiut came later, don’t ask for translations. I would prefer to call the area by its native name or “across the slough” or boat harbor area, or even better yet, “Uptown”.

All people have the right to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of whom they are and so keep that in mind if you wish to be treated just the same. Thank you.

Louie Andrew is a resident of Bethel (on the other side of the creek).