Aak’w Kwaan spokesperson Frances Houston discusses an initiative to rename the Willoughby District the Auke Village District, April 2, 2019. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

Aak’w Kwaan spokesperson Frances Houston discusses an initiative to rename the Willoughby District the Auke Village District, April 2, 2019. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

Willoughby District considers a name change

Indigenous idea could replace area name taken from downtown street

The Willoughby District might not be called that for much longer.

Tuesday night’s Juneau Economic Development Council Willoughby District stakeholder meeting introduced an initiative to consider changing the name for the downtown area that includes Centennial Hall, Zach Gordon Youth Center and more to the Auke Village District.

“The name comes from the street,” said Juneau Economic Development Council Executive Director Brian Holst near the beginning of the night’s meeting. “We call this the Willoughby District because that’s the name that was given to it when the city plan was made back in 2011, but maybe we should give it another name.”

The Willoughby District, which is named for the downtown Juneau Street, could have a new name soon. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

The Willoughby District, which is named for the downtown Juneau Street, could have a new name soon. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

The name for the downtown street comes from Richard Willoughby, a colorful character and flimflam man famous for an 1880 hoax in which he falsely claimed to have photographed a far-off place reflected in Muir Glacier.

In a November lecture, State Writer Laureate Ernestine Saankalaxt’ Hayes questioned the Western name for the avenue, and the name Auke Village came up as a suitable replacement that acknowledged the Alaska Native history of the site.

It is also how the space was identified on early maps.

[Lecture questions colonial names for Alaska Native Places]

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

Frances Houston, a spokesperson for Aak’w Kwaan, introduced the initiative to rename the district and said that it has the support of the clan.

“I shared what was going on with other clan members, and they thought it was pretty awesome to change the name of the Willoughby District to what is due to the Aak’w Kwaan,” Houston said. “We are proud we were called upon. The family is happy.”

Houston said the effort has been discussed with Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl and Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon, and it has the support of her mother and clan leader Rosa Miller.

“My mother is 92 years old, I still look for her guidance to help me do what I’m doing now and doing for the clan, it’s a tough job, but y’know what? It’s worth it because we don’t want to be swept under the rug. I am full-force, I am working hard to do what needs to be done for the clan.”

“Oh, one more thing,” she added. “I want to say one more thing, welcome to OUR neighborhood.”


• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com.


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