Juneau’s South Seward Street officially renamed Heritage Way

a man on a ladder takes down a street sign that says Seward St crossed out in red
City and Borough of Juneau public works employee Randal Jim replaces the “Seward St.” sign with one the reads “Heritage Way” on Nov. 1, 2023. (Yvonne Krumrey/KTOO)

Standing on a ladder, Vicki Soboleff painted a red streak across a street sign reading “Seward Street.” A City and Borough of Juneau public works employee climbed up next and under the pressure of dozens watching, swapped the painted sign for one that says “Heritage Way.” 

On Wednesday, one of downtown Juneau’s central streets was renamed. Sealaska Heritage Institute President Kaaháni Rosita Worl proposed the change in April.

“Today, we celebrate the removal of this stain in our history,” Worl said at the renaming ceremony. “And we celebrate reclaiming our history with a new street name, Heritage Way.”

Heritage Way runs between Front Street and Marine Way, and until this week, it was called South Seward Street. City Hall, SHI’s Walter Soboleff building and the recently-bought SHI building between the two are the only addresses that will be changed.

“If we need to continue to buy our way into this historic mining district just to do small things like this, we’ll continue doing that,” said Sealaska Board Director Joe Nelson. 

Deputy Mayor Michelle Hale spoke on behalf of the city.

“I am so pleased to right perhaps one small wrong and rename this part of the street as Heritage Way,” Hale said. 

She said she’s seen the impact Sealaska Heritage Institute has had on revitalizing Southeast Alaska Native culture. 

The Juneau Assembly unanimously agreed to support the change in May. Worl thanked the city for its support. 

“We would not have been able to accomplish the many things that we have done, like our arts campus, like the Walter Soboleff building, like the Totem Pole Trail, without the support of the city,” Worl said. 

a traditional dance group performs outside
Yées Ḵu.oo Dance Group performs at the Heritage Way renaming ceremony at the Sealaska Heritage Institute arts campus on Nov. 1, 2023. (Yvonne Krumrey/KTOO)

Seward Street’s namesake, William Seward, was the secretary of state when the U.S. bought unceded Alaska Native land from Russia. Worl said Seward referred to Indigenous people as “uncivilized” and “savages.” 

“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,” Worl said. “We’ve come a long way in now, where the public joins with us in celebrating our culture.”

The ceremony also served as a dedication for a bronze mask made by Metlakatla artist John Hudson. The “Capturer of Souls” mask now sits in a corner of the Sealaska arts campus, facing the middle of the plaza. 

Hudson said the mask is named for shamans who would bring souls back to those who had lost them.

“I believe, metaphorically, it really represents what Sealaska is also doing here with this magnificent building,” he said. “The street name change and all the totem poles are all getting a little piece of our soul returned to us.” 

Hudson said he’s proud to have a carved piece near one his father made inside the Sealaska building.

KTOO is our partner public media station in Juneau. Alaska Public Media collaborates with partners statewide to cover Alaska news.

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