The historic names of Anchorage’s streets, parks, lakes and buildings will soon be under renewed scrutiny after the Anchorage Assembly approved a new commission to name and/or rename the city’s landmarks.
Under the new process, which was approved on Sept. 12, the nine-member naming commission must include a “diversity, equity and inclusion” activist. The other members must consist of someone who has a background in history, anthropology or archaeology, a Native culture advisor, a member of Eklutna Village, someone with historic preservation experience, and four at-large residents.
While the goal of the commission is to choose names that reflect “community values,” the Assembly clearly intends for the groups to deemphasize place names that are based on prominent individuals and focus more on indigenous names.
Critics of this movement argue that it would be better to update plaques and erect new monuments rather than seek to erase the awareness of key historic moments and figures from the public square.
Nationally, the push to rename prominent streets and landmarks across the nation picked up steam with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. Around the country, angry mobs pulled down or defaced statues of Abraham Lincoln, Christopher Columbus, past presidents and the Founding Fathers. The unifying theme is that all these men represented European and American history, which many on the left despise as racist, misogynistic, colonial and white.
What began with the toppling of historic statues and monuments, has now morphed into myriad official renaming committees aimed at rectifying historical injustices.
This movement is often tied to controversial critical race theory ideology, which holds that modern American society is fundamentally marred by systemic racism, imperialism and colonialism. Over the past few years, numerous sports teams, mascots, and other symbols have been changed or entirely removed.
Critics of this movement argue that it would be better to update plaques and erect new monuments rather than seek to erase the awareness of key historic moments and figures from the public square because they somehow failed to adhere to modern notions of diversity, equity and inclusion.
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In Alaska, there have been calls to take down statues in Juneau and Anchorage which celebrate William Seward, Captain James Cook – both of whom left a monumental mark on Alaska. In 2020, the Sitka Assembly voted to remove a statue of Alexander Baranov from the front of the city’s Harrigan Centennial Hall.
Those interested in helping to shape Anchorage’s new naming commission can apply to serve on the board by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.