No more Colony Days in Palmer?
The Palmer Chamber of Commerce has changed the name of its iconic farm-friendly festival, which honored the hard work of pioneers who settled in the area and brought agriculture to Alaska.
The new name is Braided River Festival, in honor of all the rivers that flow through the area. It’s a rebrand, and without saying so, the Chamber is indicating that Colony Days is politically incorrect because of the word “colony.”
Colony Days has gone on for decades, and features a parade, booths, activities for kids, races, reindeer, a rodeo, car shows, and more.
The community of Palmer was founded in 1935, after 200 or more families were relocated to Palmer from the Midwest under the New Deal, a program created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Each family was given 40 acres in the region, and the only requirement was that they establish a self-sufficient farming community. The early colonists, as they were called, suffered many hardships to make a life in Alaska in territorial days. Today, Palmer is the agricultural heartbeat of the state, with farms throughout the area. Families of the colonists are proud of their hearty heritage.
“After decades of successfully hosting one of the summer’s largest festivals in the valley, we felt it was important to rebrand it to reflect what it has grown into: a celebration of the many aspects of what makes Palmer unique,” said GPCC Executive Director Ailis Vann. “A braided river is made up of smaller rivers, creeks, and tributaries that come together to form one large, powerful force. For decades, the Palmer Chamber has also grown into a larger force thanks to the support of our community partners. It also speaks to the natural beauty of the Palmer area, including the Matanuska and Knik Rivers.”
Colony Days and the Colony Christmas festival were originally created by the “occupants of the Matanuska Colony Project 86 years ago,” the Chamber wrote. “The Greater Palmer Chamber of Commerce eventually took on organizational duties for the event and grew it into what it is today; a three-day, indoor and outdoor celebration that features a parade, food trucks, vendor booths, family activities, music, and other opportunities to highlight local businesses in Palmer.”
This year’s event is scheduled for June 10-12.
Deputy Mayor Pamela Melin says she is disheartened and saddened by the actions of the Chamber of Commerce, which have taken away the beloved Colony tradition.
“My children have celebrated along side me as an adult. Now I have grandchildren who I would love to share these experiences with. To disregard our rich history is not the answer to a cohesive future. If we have truly grown as a people, we wouldn’t apply such politically driven and divisive labels such as ‘occupants’ of the Matanuska Colony Project. I fear the impact to our local businesses that could bear the brunt of such a decision. The people of Palmer deserve to know the following: What led to this radical change and rebranding?Was there data supplied that required this change?Who was the motivator behind determining the need and we’re there special interest groups involved in the decision making?Who was the key author and designer of the rebrand? Did the board members or members debate or have an opportunity to weigh in on such an impactful decision? Did the members even know this was happening?”
There is still a Colony High School in Palmer, but it may be next on the list for a name change to erase the history of the people who came to farm the land.