The sign reading “Seward St.” spent its final moments at a prominent downtown intersection defaced with fresh red paint and proved to be a bit of a struggle for a city worker to detach at midday Wednesday. But moments later a new sign reading “Heritage Way” was atop the signpost next to City Hall to mark the official renaming of a two-block portion of the street.
“We’ve come a long way in now, where the public joins with us in celebrating our culture,” Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl told a crowd of about 50 tribal leaders, city officials and others attending a renaming ceremony just before the sign swap. “Today we celebrate the removal of this stain in our history. And we celebrate reclaiming our history with a new street name: Heritage Way.”
Five street signs and City Hall’s official address — now 155 Heritage Way — officially changed as of Nov. 1. The new street signs are at three intersections between Front Street and Marine Way, plus two on City Hall.
The portion of Seward Street from the stop sign between Heritage Coffee Roasting Co. and Juneau Drug towards the Alaska State Capitol will not be changed.
The renaming first became publicly prominent in April when Worl announced during a public ceremony the nonprofit intended to change the name. SHI submitted an application to the city soon after and the Planning Commission unanimously approved the change in June.
Seward Street is named after William H. Seward, known for his role in negotiating the purchase of the Alaska territory from the Russian Empire in 1867. Southeast Alaska residents — including Worl — have condemned his role in the suppression of Alaska Native culture.
“In sharp contrast to his view of Alaska, as a land of great beauty and riches, he saw Alaska Natives not as owners of the land, but as laborers who would support the colonization of Alaska,” she said during Wednesday’s ceremony. “We, on the other hand, saw Alaska as the homeland of Alaska Native people.”
Deputy Mayor Michelle Bonnet Hale, representing the City and Borough of Juneau at the ceremony, said the renaming is among the ongoing ways over a period of many years to change the common perception of Juneau as a historic mining community.
“I am so pleased to right perhaps one small wrong in the world and rename this part of the street as Heritage Way,” she said.
The Yées Ḵu.oo Dance Group led the ceremonial procession from the plaza square to the intersection at Marine Way for the first official sign swap. Vicki Soboleff, chair of the SHI board, did a physical as well as symbolic removal of the ”stain” of the old sign by painting a red streak over its name. Randal Jim, a City and Borough of Juneau public works employee, then detached the old sign — using a bit of extra effort — and replaced it with the new Heritage Way sign with the assistance of co-worker Joey Ludlam.
• Contact Mark Sabbatini at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907) 957-2306.