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When the Heart Says No: Yellowknife’s Franklin Avenue needs a name change


The Yellowknives Dene First Nation has asked city council to rename Franklin Avenue to Chief Drygeese Avenue in honour of the chief who signed Treaty 8 on behalf of the Yellowknives Dene.

It’s about time, eh.

I spoke to Chief Ernest Betsina about this in November to follow up on an article I wrote calling for a name change in November 2019. Many people spoke in favour of my suggestion. Right on!

When Yellowknives Dene Chief Eddie Sangris was asked about it back then, he said it was “about time something was done about (the issue). Sir John Franklin just passed through here. He didn’t have an… impact on Yellowknife. He didn’t do anything for it.”

Apparently, the City of Yellowknife has a Reconciliation Action Plan. It would be a tremendous show of meaningful reconciliation by city council if they were to change the name of Franklin Avenue. I’m sure it would be appreciated by Indigenous people across the North.

The following is a reprint of my article from Nov. 2, 2019. It’s just as appropriate now as it was then.

It’s time to rename Franklin Avenue

Have you ever wondered why main street in Yellowknife is called Franklin Avenue? Well, apparently, Sir John Franklin went through this area once almost 200 years ago. Two. Hundred. Years. Ago. This guy did nothing except pass by here when he was half starved. Eschia!

Fort McMurray has a Franklin Avenue too. He must have walked down main street of Fort McMurray as well. Wahway!

I’ve driven through High Level and stayed there many, many times. They still haven’t named their main street after me. And I wasn’t even starving. In fact, I spent my hard-earned cash all along main street, so I contributed to their economy. LOL!

According to the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre’s website, Yellowknives Dene leader Akaitcho and some of his hunters helped Franklin’s expedition travel from Fort Providence to 250 miles north of Great Slave Lake, where they built Fort Enterprise.

After doing some exploring along the coast, Franklin returned to Fort Enterprise nearly dead from starvation. Akaitcho and his hunters came back to the fort and fed the starving men. When Franklin became strong enough, Akaitcho brought them back to Fort Providence.

The museum says, “John Franklin was received as a hero when he returned to England… Akaitcho, the Yellowknife (sic) Dene who saved the lives of Franklin and his men, is largely ignored in the written history of the North but remains an important part of the oral history of the Dene.”

And someone also named Sir John Franklin High School after this explorer. What for? Your guess is as good as mine. I asked a local historian if he knew why, and he said Franklin passed through here on his way to the Arctic coast.

I said, “That’s it? He passed by here someplace and they named main street and a high school after him?” He said, “Yup, and he wrote about Akaitcho trading at Yellowknife Bay!” I thought, “Not on my watch.”

Some good main street names

Whew, seems to me main street would be better off being named Akaitcho Avenue. What do you think?

After all, Akaitcho saved Franklin and his men and passed through here countless times, including when helping Franklin go through both ways.

How about Weledeh Avenue or Yellowknives Dene Avenue after the Yellowknives Dene? After all, these are the people who were living in this area since time immemorial. They were already here when Franklin came around. What better name is there?

Somebody was on the ball back in the day because there was a residence for out-of-town students next to Sir John Franklin High School, and they named it Akaitcho Hall. Now you’re talking.

But Akaitcho Hall has been torn down and Sir John Franklin High School is still standing. Perhaps the school should be named Akaitcho and main street named after the local Indigenous people. Well yaaaaa!

It’s a good thing that Akaitcho wasn’t like my dad, or Franklin might not have survived. Don’t believe me?

One time the Duke of Edinburgh was coming to Yellowknife and Yellowknifer asked people what they’d tell him if they could meet him. My dad said, “I’d tell him to go back home. We’ve already got enough people like him around here.”

When Yellowknifer came out, there was my dad’s picture with his bold statement. And the fake name he had used was ”Luke Magluke.” Bahahahaha.

My mom tried to get mad at him, but she couldn’t stop laughing.

A week later, my brother Bill, who was the head of the Dene Nation, told my dad he was meeting the duke and asked, “You want to meet the duke? But you can’t tell him to go back to England.”

My dad said, “Sure, I want to meet the duke, but do you think he reads the Yellowknifer?”

City council renamed Petitot Park to Somba K’e Park after people discovered that Emile Petitot was a pedophile. Let’s see if they do the proper thing here as well.

After all, the mayor recently said they want to have more streets with Indigenous names.