ANCHORAGE (AP) -- For more than 50 years, the Nunamuit people of Anaktuvuk Pass have referred to one of the peaks overlooking their village as Ingstad Mountain. Now they want it official.
The village wants to honor Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad, the first non-Native to live among the Anaktuvuk Pass Nunamuit, or inland Eskimos, and a legendary Norwegian explorer of the 20th century.
In 1960, Ingstad unearthed the ruins of an A.D. 1000 Viking settlement in Newfoundland, proving Scandinavians had landed in North America 500 years before Columbus.
Now, with Ingstad's passing in March of last year at 101, the residents of Anaktuvuk Pass want to make their name for the mountain official, the kind that's printed on government maps.
They've petitioned the U.S. Board of Geographic Names and received the backing of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and the Norwegian ambassador to the United States.
The name Ingstad Mountain appears to meet key board criteria and is likely to be approved, said Roger Payne, the board's executive secretary in Washington, D.C. But the board hasn't voted yet, and the name likely wouldn't go on maps until at least five years after Ingstad's death, Payne said.
Anaktuvuk Pass is at 2,400 feet on the Continental Divide in the Endicott Mountains of the Brooks Range. The village of about 280 sits a few hundred yards south of the divide.
The 4,880-foot peak known as Ingstad Mountain looms over the village on the east and is impossible to miss, said Grant Spearman, curator of the village's Simon Paneak Memorial Museum.
''It's kind of twin-peaked, a very subdued or gentle mountain, not rugged,'' Spearman said. ''It's very lovely.''
Ingstad, who gave up a career as a lawyer to become an adventurer and author, was nearly 50 years old when he arrived in Anaktuvuk Pass in 1949. The Nunamuit had just begun settling the area after a semi-nomadic existence, and were living in caribou-skin tents.
Ingstad had trapped in the Canadian Arctic, served as a governor in Greenland and lived among the Apache in Arizona. He stayed in Anaktuvuk Pass for about nine months.
The people's desire to name a mountain after him arose just before he left in 1950, according to his celebrated book ''Nunamuit: Among Alaska's Inland Eskimos.''
In it, Ingstad writes:
''We were sitting in the tent, talking a little bit about my departure. (Simon Paneak, a well-regarded hunter) said: We will give you the mountain which stands at the beginning of the Giants' Valley. It shall bear your name, and we will remember you.' Then he added, in a matter-of-fact way: Our people remember such things for many generations.' ''
Indeed they do.
''Ever since, we've known the mountain to be Ingstad Mountain,'' said 21-year-old Frances Hugo, the city clerk.
Ingstad collected cultural artifacts in Anaktuvuk Pass and took photographs. In so doing, he recorded a nomadic way of life about to be overtaken by the trappings of a new and growing settlement.
''I think I saved this culture of these people,'' he told the Daily News in 1989 after his one and only return to the village. ''Everything is American now. Before, we were a little cluster of tents out in the mountains, and now there are houses, large houses.''
On his return visit, the people greeted him warmly.
''When we stepped off the plane,'' he said, ''they were standing there, everybody, all the small kids, the women, and greeted me just like I was a king.''
Ingstad is well-regarded among the Nunamuit not because he was a hero -- they didn't even know about the Viking discovery -- but probably because he was highly self-sufficient, according to Spearman, the museum director.
''One of the things you quickly learn up here is that the people in this community are very friendly, very outgoing, and if you show an interest in these folks and in what they do, they respond by incorporating you into their activities,'' said Spearman, a 51-year-old who was trained as an archaeologist and who has lived in Anaktuvuk Pass for 24 years after growing up in Washington state.
They want the visitors eventually to be able to take care of themselves, he added.
''It's in their best interest to teach you how to cope with the environment,'' Spearman said. ''Helge came with a backlog of several years' experience. He was a trapper, a hunter. Here was someone they didn't have to tend to.''
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