A few months ago, Juneau public libraries got new bathroom signs that are in English and Lingít. It’s a small thing, but when the City and Borough of Juneau posted about it last week on social media, it was widely liked and shared.
It’s one more nod to indigenous people and culture in Juneau in a string of similar public gestures, big and small.
Library Director Robert Barr said the story behind the bathroom signs is short. Someone on his staff recommended it.
“It sounded like a good idea to me, so I told her go ahead and make it happen,” Barr said. “And it did!”
Barr said because the text on the signs was custom, they cost more than $100 each. The city’s Parks and Recreation Department bought some of the new bathroom signs at the same time as the libraries, too.
Carla Casulucan found out about them last week on Facebook. To paraphrase from her online reaction, she “love love LOVES” the new signs, ✊, and “Aatlein Gunalchéesh!” which means thank you very much.
So, why are bathroom signs an object of love and fist pumps?
“Well, I was very happy to see it and very pleased with how far I think just our locality, our city and our school system and even private businesses in general in the local area have started to embrace being more diverse and representative of the local indigenous culture,” Casulucan said. “It’s not something that I grew up seeing a lot of here.”
Casulucan, whose Tlingit name is Kat.Xoon, was born and raised in Juneau. She’s a Gen Xer with family roots in Hoonah. She remembers growing up with Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School as the only school with a Lingít name in town and getting made fun of for her culture.
“We were, I think, kind of relegated to like, a week long of Indian studies week that was incorporated into the mainstream curriculum,” she said.
She said her kids and grandkids are growing up in Juneau in a different environment.
“It’s nice to see that there’s something that school-aged kids now can look at and feel a little bit of a sense of belonging and some, you know, a little bit of pride and that their people are being acknowledged and recognized,” she said.
She said the small gestures and big ones, like renaming Juneau-Douglas High School as Juneau-Douglas High School: Yaadaa.at Kalé earlier this year, are beacons of pride.
There have been a lot of other notable nods around Juneau in the last two years:
- City officials renamed a downtown neighborhood Aak’w Village District.
- The centerline at Treadwell Arena that’s new this season was designed by Tsimshian artist Abel Ryan with students at the Zach Gordon Youth Center.
- The downtown intersection of Front and Seward streets got a makeover with formline designs and renamed Heritage Square.
- Education officials renamed the school in Douglas Sayéik: Gastineau Community School.