Friday, October 2, 2015

Annual Conference of the Council of Geographic Names Authorities 2016

Planning is underway for the Annual Conference of the Council of Geographic Names Authorities

Hosted by the Nevada State Board on Geographic Names: Jeff Kintop, Chairman

Conference Co-hosts: Christine Johnson, Executive Secretary; and Linda Newman, Past Chair
Where: Peppermill Reno
2707 South Virginia Street
Reno, NV89502
Reservations: 1-866-821-9996

When: May 3-7, 2016

            See the 2016 Tentative Program

Why you should attend COGNA 2016
My name is Christine Johnson, and I serve as the Executive Secretary on the Nevada Board on Geographic Names, which I very much enjoy as I enter my second year.  Late in 2014, I happened upon the COGNA conference information, and upon investigation, was intrigued by the “Call for Papers” topics, as well as the actual conference geography – held in Anchorage in April/May, 2015.  I decided that the conference was something I wanted to attend, whether I presented a paper or not, as a lover of geography (who can resist Alaska?!). Ultimately, the paper I submitted was accepted, and I also presented at this conference, which was a great experience as well, but that’s not why I’m writing this testimonial.
There are many reasons why you should consider attending COGNA this year.  The first (and perhaps most important reason) falls to the interest of anyone currently serving on a State board. Per COGNA’s website: “The Council of Geographic Names Authorities (COGNA) is an association of state and federal government agencies…. who work to promote national standardization of the names of geographic features.”  The annual conference provides a venue for dialogue among state boards, and between state and federal boards in a direct capacity.  Having the ability to see the Federal board in action (they hold their monthly meeting at the COGNA conference) is enlightening, and as a state representative, you have a voice at the conference, are a source of information for others, and become part of a much larger network across the nation that can only continue to grow.  Again, from the website: “COGNA was established to provide a dependable planning and training mechanism through its annual conferences to carry out certain work directed by its members, and to provide a central office for the purpose of communication.” I learned in Anchorage – this is very much the case.
As a relatively new member of our state board, I was unaware that we (as board members) SHOULD be attending these annual conferences.  I had heard we had board members attend in the past, but it had been more than ten years since our last representation, and I had assumed it was just something folks chose to do if the mood struck them and they had the opportunity.  In attending last year’s conference, I discovered why it matters to send someone from your board.  I learned more about the Federal policies and procedures.  I learned what other states are encountering and how they are dealing with particular issues in order to keep in mind should we ever encounter similar situations. I learned about local history and issues in Alaska (which are now making national headlines), and an abundance of other interesting things. The networking was great, and the lectures were even greater.
Attendees at the last conference included state representatives, federal board members, members of the local public, university professors, and geography enthusiasts among others.  The lectures ranged from topics on onomastic standardization, naming issues in “the Lower 48,” teaching language using mapping technologies, and local topics, including a panel on the Denali/McKinley debate. 
The reality is, I am certain many state boards have suffered cut-backs (if not total elimination) due to government short-falls or some states that do not have official boards may not know about COGNA.  Those that are aware may not (as I did not) know how important and educational the annual conference is, and how useful the information disseminated is to bring back to your local agencies.  I understand conference attendance has continued to decline over the years, again, likely due to funding, but also, perhaps, due to a misunderstanding of what our roles are at the state level.  I paid to attend this conference myself; our board has no funding to send members to conferences, nor does my employer. I wanted to go despite these issues, and it was worth every penny. I’m hoping as I write this, that I am able to convey the passion I have for this conference and its potential. I came home to Nevada with a renewed sense of understanding about what we do and why we do it, and feel so deeply connected to this larger community – people doing the same things in other states – that I was previously unaware of. 
I learned while in Anchorage that there was the idea afloat that perhaps this conference should be put on hiatus for lack of attendance.  When I heard that, I volunteered to help. I volunteered my time, my board, and my community as a venue for this conference.  The Nevada Board on Geographic Names has unanimously supported my suggestion, and we will work to make this conference as great as it was in Anchorage, and are both proud and pleased to have been deemed the official hosts for COGNA 2016 here in Reno, Nevada.
Reno is a growing community, with a great history and culture, and an even greater geography.  If you’ve never been to this conference, or have fallen away from it, or didn’t know it existed, come to Reno. Tell your friends, and tell your colleagues. Come and experience what I did ; a community of geography-lovers, a venue for interesting and gripping discussions, an opportunity to learn about the host community and surrounding region, and meet your counterparts – the people doing exactly what you are doing, in other places. This conference is for you, and anyone you know who is interested in names, places, geography, and even history.  At COGNA 2015, I made some great new friends, saw the amazing sights of Anchorage and its surrounding area, and I discovered that there is information and resources available to me through this conference that I would otherwise have struggled to find or know exist. I’m certain you will share these experiences. 
Thank you to Mr. Wayne Furr for his continued leadership of and service to this amazing organization, and for opening my eyes to such a great resource. I look forward to continuing to assist Mr. Caleb Maki in any way possible as he navigates his way into this leadership role, and I look forward to seeing both old and new faces in Reno in 2016!

Christine Johnson
Nevada Board on Geographic Names

What to expect at the conference  
See the 2016 Tentative Program