Offensive place name to be stricken from Alaska town code

FILE - This Sept. 10, 2018, screenshot shows the municipal code for Bethel, Alaska, where the offensive term "Lousetown" is used to describe a small section of the town in southwest Alaska. The name, which was noted in the town's municipal code since 2001 despite its connotations of parasitic lice, is being stricken from the code. (Town of Bethel via AP, File)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A place name deemed offensive to Alaska Natives who live there is being stricken from the municipal code of a small town in western Alaska after local officials took official action.

The section of Bethel long known as Lousetown was noted in the municipal code since 2001, despite its connotations of parasitic lice.

The nickname will be removed after the Bethel City Council agreed it should be stricken and the area renamed East Avenue for the road traversing that part of the town of about 6,000.

The issue emerged when City Council member Thor Williams introduced a proposed ordinance seeking to change the code to require visible addresses on buildings throughout the city, including Lousetown.

The ordinance, including the call to rename Lousetown, was approved by a 6-0 vote at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

“It’s a positive improvement within our community,” Williams said Wednesday. “And it will be known as East Avenue from now on instead of known as a deplorable word.”

The word louse means an unpleasant or contemptible person, it’s also the singular term for lice — the parasitic insect known for infesting human hair.

Williams doesn’t know why or when the area got the name as a common reference to that part of town, even though there are no signs there with the name Lousetown. No one else seems to know the origin of the nickname, although historian Jo Antonson said lice infestations were a perennial problem in western Alaska in the past.

East Avenue is better than Lousetown, said 79-year-old Bea Kristovich, who lived there in her youth. But she was among locals who thought the area should be called one of various Yup’ik Eskimo names, so she’s not a fan of the new name.

“That’s not the right thing to do,” she said of the change. “I don’t think I like it.”

It’s a change traditional chief Louie Andrew, who lives in that section, can live with.

“It doesn’t matter as long as it gets that Lousetown out of there,” he said.


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