Former mayors to Berkowitz: Please use public process in decision on Cook statue - Must Read Alaska
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Saturday, July 11, 2020
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Former mayors to Berkowitz: Please use public process in decision on Cook statue

(The following letter was addressed to Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and the Anchorage Assembly and signed by four former mayors)

Many residents are concerned with the lack of pubic process in the recent unilateral decision by Mayor Berkowitz to leave the fate of the Captain Cook statue in Resolution Park to the Native Village of Eklutna.  I and several other former mayors share in that concern.  

The statue was donated to Anchorage by the British Petroleum Corporation in 1975 and installed in 1976.  Ironically, their gift was in celebration of the 200th anniversary of our country’s Declaration of Independence from England.  

It was designed by renowned sculptor Derek Freeborn and replicas of this same work appear in other areas where Captain Cook explored, including Hawaii, Australia, British Columbia and our sister city of Whitby, England, where Captain Cook began his naval career.

The sudden impetus to remove and/or re-locate the statue seems to be an extension of similar actions throughout the country, where historical monuments that some people consider offensive are now targets of removal, often times through criminal vandalism, and without a true public process.

While we are happy that the good citizens of Anchorage have not resorted to such acts, the lack of public input into any decision regarding the Captain Cook statue leaves us wondering:  “what’s the rush?” The best public decisions are those that are thoughtful and inclusive. 

Resolution Park is a dedicated municipal park and as such, any decision altering the park should go before the Park and Recreation Advisory Commission and to our knowledge that has not occurred.   We would also think that the Historical Advisory Commission would want an opportunity to have input.

Perhaps a process similar to the one used to name public places would be appropriate.  In that process, four citizens, two appointed by the mayor and two by the assembly meet, hold a public hearing and decide on naming recommendation based on a set of prescribed criteria.  That recommendation then goes to the Assembly which also holds a public hearing and then makes the final decision.

We are encouraged by the comments of Eklutna Village Tribal President Aaron Leggett, also a curator at the Anchorage Museum.   He suggested that the best course of action may be not to remove the statue but to enhance the exhibit at Resolution Park to include historical information and recognition of the Dena’ina people who inhabited the Cook Inlet area when Captain Cook conducted his explorations.  

Governor Dunleavy recently responded in a similar vein when the subject of removing historical monuments and works of art was discussed.  He said it is important to retain our history but, where appropriate, to add additional works of art and/or historical information to enhance and to add context to what already has been displayed.

Captain Cook was one of the world’s greatest explorers and cartographers.  The fact that his journeys brought him to Alaska is of great historical significance.  

He was not a political figure, nor a colonialist.  He justly deserves recognition and any decisions regarding what form that recognition takes can only benefit from a robust and open public process.

Mr. Mayor and Assembly members, we urge you to consider using something similar to the public facilities naming process and to follow the established lawful procedures regarding changes to our parks so that all voices in our community have an opportunity to be heard.

Sincerely,

Former Anchorage Mayors                                                                                                                                    Dan Sulllivan                                                                                                                                                        George Wuerch                                                                                                                                                        Rick Mystrom                                                                                                                                                              Tom Fink                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Well if it goes to “committee” Ol’ Captain Cook is here to stay!

  • Excellent.

  • Let’s take a vote

  • I would hope this letter gets printed in our local ADN. Has it been submitted at least?

    • The ADN generally only published materials supplied by the NYTimes, WashPo, Associated Press and their selected, permanent local critics. I would doubt they would publish this piece. The former mayors are old, non-progressives that will only hinder the task of transforming Anchorage into a “woke” paradise.

      • I just submitted it to the editor.

  • By the way, you need to change the Anchorage City Seal.

    • I see no reason to change the seal of Anchorage. I think it ie well designed and draws attention to critical elements of our history. The anchor is symbolic of our marine heritage and the fact that we are much dependent on marine transport for our food and other commerce not to mention it is fundamental to our name.the ship is again indicative of a heavy reliance on the sea both for Anchorage and Alaska and its an ever present part of the physical makeup of where we live. The sailing vessel might represent all vessels or Cpt Cooks voyage or the significance of Alaska whaling history or the fact that most settlers arrived by ship to Alaska and Anchorage.. That’s how my mother arrived here in ‘41’.

      • I agree with you. My comment was mostly to point out some of the silliness of erasing history. I think it is a great seal. I wouldn’t change it. I also wouldn’t pull down Capt Cook’s statue. It is a part of history that leads people to other histories. Cook sailed all over the world. We can always debate whether that led to good or bad things. But it is part of history.

  • Well, what do you expect from a let’s make it viral mentality. This is the danger of Social Media where those who disdain history as a farce will do anything to substantiate their position.
    The suggestion of Eklutna Village Tribal President Aaron Leggett is a well needed and honorable balanced approach to those of exploring conquests of Western Europeans who first set foot on Alaska soil.
    Thank you also to the previous Anchorage Mayors whose temperance and knowledge have guided Anchorage in the past.

    • Whole-heartedly agree!

    • Well, I can imagine myself as a native who is both befuddled and overpowered by an invading force aimed at claiming whatever it can for its native, European monarchy, but, what-the-hey, might makes right. Right?

  • What no Knowles or Begich signatures? Is anyone surprised? Just goes to show you that the National Democrat bosses’ wishes are being followed in Alaska. Start a race war. At any cost.
    Note the difference between Juneau’s Seward statue, and Anchorage’s Capt. Cook statue movements. Juneau Has petitions from the public both pro and con. Anchorage has a mayor giving the authority of municipal property to an unelected, not even on the Muni payroll individual, who most of us never heard of. Time for a lawsuit.

  • Cook was the world’s greatest explorer……..ever. Wacked-out Lefties are just jealous that he was a White dude.

    • Ya think that’s why the Hawai’ians dealt with him the way they did?

      • I thought the best explorer was Captain James Kirk. Second best: Spock.

        • True. Lefties couldn’t find their way out of the solar system. They’re still circling Uranus, searching for Klingons.

          • LOL. and buying up all the toilet paper.

  • That statue was donated by BP to the people of Anchorage. The people of Anchorage should have the final say. Little Ethan should not be involved.

  • Thank you to the Mayors of Anchorage who are speaking on residents’ behalf. Thousands of Alaskans appreciate this city. We have lost so much lately. The Captain Cook statue must stay. Yes, do add statues of First Alaskans. Our Anchorage museum of History and Art is the perfect place to initiate genuine Alaska History exhibits. The Anchorage Museum is a major attraction for tourists. During this period of isolation with fewer visitors, I recommend the museum staff engage Native Corporations to support the design and construction of indigenous peoples’ life styles/exhibits inside the newly remodeled and vast museum.

    The museum used to have those exhibits. What happened to them?

  • So when they remove the statue of Captain Cook, will they rename the Capt Cook Hotel? This madness needs to stop.

  • The fear of “offending” a few usually winds up offending the majority. There will always be “the few” offended by anything. Yes, yes…Cook didn’t “discover” anything in Alaska since the “natives” (also originally not native) saw it first. His voyages were not of exploitation but of exploration. It isn’t about “privilege” but envy.

  • Please “Sing it again Sam”. How can a public edifice of 45 years even be considered for a removal action without the sanction of the public or its elected officials? We accepted the Capt Cook statute so It is public property is it not? The Assemble has a responsibility here, lets see action here to treat it as public property because that is what it is, just like City Hall, our libraries and the fire department. Please leave them alone too.

  • Cook is about to joint the long list of “unpersons.”

    • Beam me up!

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