Library, Museum opening: 'Welcome, all you foreigners' - Must Read Alaska
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Sunday, September 19, 2021
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Library, Museum opening: ‘Welcome, all you foreigners’

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What was missing during the ceremony

Among the 10 speakers who welcomed a few hundred Juneau residents to the grand opening of the Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff State Library, Archives, and Museum were Tlingit elders Rosa Miller and Marie Olson, treasures in their own right and a link to the recent history of Southeast Alaska.

Rosa Miller welcomed everyone to Áak’w Kwáan land. She made it clear it was her people’s land. But Marie Olson went a step further: “Welcome, all you foreigners.” Perhaps it was a joke. We’ll give her credit.

Yes, most of the audience members were white – or so it appeared. But many were of other heritage. And what did it matter to her, other than to reveal a thinly veiled hostility? Mrs. Olson could not help herself but to drive a well-used wedge between those of Tlingit heritage, and the rest who are also dwellers on this earth. More than a few in the audience murmured a response, which was not necessarily an approval. But the lieutenant governor smiled approvingly.

Such is the state of Native Alaska relations with the rest of Alaska — we white, black, Hispanic, Polynesian, and those of us who are purebred mutt Alaskans.

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Where there are many who work to apply justice in a world that badly needs it, there are others who continue to revel in the past injustices and perpetuate a culture of grievance, while the politically correct remain mute.

Missing among the comments offered by speakers during the rain-spattered ceremony was this fact: While it took 20 years to get the building up and out of the ground and open to the public, the $139 million in funding was provided largely by the royalties from petroleum oil extracted from the North Slope of Alaska, far, far away from Áak’w Kwáan land. The building actually came from Prudhoe Bay land.

Not a single speaker on the dais acknowledged the critical role of the actual funders of this project — those who drive the ice roads, who work the dials and gauges, who turn the wrenches, and  who cook the meals for the workers in the oil patch. Certainly none were invited to be among the honored guests, if only as a symbolic presence.

After all, they’re “foreigners,” and that puts them in an entirely different class.

Inside, the displays and exhibits were worth the wait, including this gem, which also owes its existence to oil:

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The piece is called “Plastic Death,” and it is appropriately encased in museum quality Plexiglas. Because irony is alive and well in the art space.

 

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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.

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