Then and Now: This photo composite shows what the Willoughby District looked like back what it was an Alaska Native village, and now in current day. The historic photograph by Winter and Pond is not dated, but was was taken sometime between 1893 and 1943, according to the Alaska State Library Historical Collections (Collection number ASL-PCA-87). The photo on the right was taken Monday, June 24, 2019, on Willoughby Avenue by Juneau Empire photographer Michael Penn.

Then and Now: This photo composite shows what the Willoughby District looked like back what it was an Alaska Native village, and now in current day. The historic photograph by Winter and Pond is not dated, but was was taken sometime between 1893 and 1943, according to the Alaska State Library Historical Collections (Collection number ASL-PCA-87). The photo on the right was taken Monday, June 24, 2019, on Willoughby Avenue by Juneau Empire photographer Michael Penn.

The Willoughby District in downtown Juneau has a new Native name

Downtown area’s new handle nods to its indigenous history

The Willoughby District won’t be called that any more.

Monday night, the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly adopted a resolution renaming the downtown business area the Aak’w Kwáan Village District. Renaming the district which borders Willoughby Avenue acknowledges the historic Aak’w Kwáan settling of the area.

The area was home to a neighborhood known as the “Indian Village” and was a traditional summer village site for Alaska Native people.

Aak’w Kwáan spokesperson Frances Houston attended the night’s meeting, but did not speak. She said afterward in an interview she was happy with the change.

“I discussed it with other Aak’w Kwáan, and they voted on it, and they’re happy,” she said.

Then and Now: This photo composite shows what the Willoughby District looked like in back what it was an Alaska Native village, and now in current day. The historic photograph is not dated, but was was taken sometime between 1893 and 1943, according to the Alaska State Library Historical Collections (Collection number ASL-P01-4853). The photo on the right was taken Monday, June 24, 2019, on Willoughby Avenue by Juneau Empire photographer Michael Penn.

Then and Now: This photo composite shows what the Willoughby District looked like in back what it was an Alaska Native village, and now in current day. The historic photograph is not dated, but was was taken sometime between 1893 and 1943, according to the Alaska State Library Historical Collections (Collection number ASL-P01-4853). The photo on the right was taken Monday, June 24, 2019, on Willoughby Avenue by Juneau Empire photographer Michael Penn.

The Willoughby District was named for Willoughby Avenue, which establishes a sort of boundary for an area that includes Centennial Hall and Zach Gordon Youth Center. The resolution does not rename the downtown street.

The street name comes from Richard Willoughby, who made money selling fraudulent postcards that supposedly depicted a distant Russian village dubbed “Silent City.”

Willoughby claimed to have photographed the reflection of the city during a visit to Muir Glacier at Glacier Bay and sold postcards of the image. The photo actually depicted a city in England.

The idea for renaming the district first bubbled up at a November Sealaska Heritage Institute lecture given by writer Ernestine Saankalaxt’ Hayes during Native American and Alaska Native Heritage month.

[Lecture questions European names for Native places]

“Is it not time to stop erasing Native people, erasing Native history, erasing Native names?” Hayes asked at the lecture. “Let us not look back with admiration, but forward with hope.”

The new name was effective immediately as soon as the resolution was adopted, according to the resolution.

However, Deputy City Manager Mila Cosgrove said it may take a while for it to have an impact.

She said people to get used to calling the district by its new name, but it will be known as the Aak’w Kwáan Village District during ongoing Wayfinding and Downtown Blueprint projects.


• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.


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