Will Alaska Day be shamed off the State calendar? - Must Read Alaska
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Wednesday, November 13, 2019
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Will Alaska Day be shamed off the State calendar?

Alaska Day celebration in Sitka

A rising tide of indigenous opposition to the Alaska State holiday known as Alaska Day is simmering in some factions of the Native community. How will it get expressed this year during the day that honors a significant event between two sovereign nations — Russia and America?

Not everyone is happy with Alaska Day.

Some say they want the day known as “DeColonize Alaska Day,” or “Truth and Reconciliation Day” in recognition of the first various inhabitants of the land, and the somewhat dubious transfer of a deed that didn’t include the people who got here first.

Tribes and bands of people lived in the vast Alaska region before Vitus Bering, the Danish explorer in the Russian Navy, caught his first glimpse of the land known to the Aleuts as “Alyeska.”

The Russians claimed the territory, and the U.S. purchased it from Russia in 1867. It was first a district, then a territory. Statehood came on Jan. 3, 1959. And the rest, as they say, is history.

But Alaska Day marks the official transfer of the deed from the Russians, and there are plenty of Natives who don’t think that purchase was legal then, nor should that deed be honored now. Essentially, it’s a public statement that challenges the U.S. title to the land.

That’s made for uncomfortable interactions in Sitka, where the official transfer took place, and where Alaska Day is celebrated with gusto every year, with bagpipe bands, beer festivals, dances, tours, a reenactment ceremony, and a parade. It’s a week-long festival that draws hordes of visitors to town during the off-tourism season.

Since 2017, a group of local Tlingits and supporters have staged a counter-event to protest the colonization of Alaska. This year, letters to the editor in the local newspaper are once again raising the awareness that the official State of Alaska holiday is a day when some Alaskans mourn the uninvited colonists, stampeders, missionaries, oil drillers, and the history of Statehood itself.

It’s unclear what exactly the protesters want besides renaming the day, or if they’ll once again carry signs, and pound drums to express their displeasure with what is a high holy day in Sitka. Some have discussed the creation of a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” as occurred during the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa.

A video tour of Alaska Day in Sitka in 2018.

This year’s celebration theme is “Frontier First Responders.” Thursday, visitors coming to Sitka by air will be greeted at the airport by people in 1860s period costumes. Along with history exhibits and interpretive tours around town, there’s the Alaska Ball starting at 7 pm in Harrigan Hall, with more period costumes and a performance by the New Archangels Dancers, a 50-year-old dance troupe that celebrates Russian folk dance.

Friday features an underground tour of St. Michael’s Orthodox Cathedral, Russian Bishop’s House open house, a beer festival, Pioneers Home open house, and the parade at 2:30 pm. More events continue on Saturday, concluding with a variety show in the evening.

See the entire schedule of events at this link.

Will Native protesters dampen the celebrations? Perhaps, or perhaps not. The new Indigenous Peoples Day, which was Monday — same day as Columbus Day — may take the sting out of the wound that some Natives feel about Alaska Day festivities.

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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

  • Columbus day has been wiped from our national calendar, so why not?

    • No it hasn’t, although it should be.

  • It is the same old story of those in current times complaining about the History of the World. Note some of the conditions in the Sale of Alaska to the USA. For example the Indians and Eskimos became wards of the USA. The USA were to be caregivers to the Native people in Alaska. This stipulation was not included in any other land purchase by the USA. It was a concern by the Russia Orthodox Church to ensure the well being of the Native people. One could argue it was best deal North American Indigenous people got from the White man. So what is wrong with Alaska Day or for that matter Seward’s Day?

  • Flush toilets and electricity ought to take a lot more of the sting out. Just wait until they’re told “diversity is their strength”.

    • When are the hateful nationalists going to be silenced? Have we no dignity.

  • I still celebrate Columbus Day because that’s the way I was raised, and I still call it Mount McKinley also because President McKinley was assassinated and I figure we owe it to him. Again, I’m old school and happen to be a Native American, but I don’t think we should start changing things because the wind is blowing from a different direction. An apple is still an apple.

  • I thought we put all this to bed with the mutually agreed upon ANCSA and ANILCA.

    • The perpetual victim will never cease to air their percieved grievance less they stop being viewed as victims. The luxury of modern abundance has provide victimhood as something to be treasured and profited upon instead of avoided or moved past.

  • Keep Alaska Day but also celebrate native heritage too. Both celebrate important realities. Trying to cancel out one or the other…what is the point? Piling on more division?

    History seems to plod on in its own way dispite all our efforts to influence or reverse it. In fact, those efforts become history as well. And they could end up for the good or become far worse than the original sin they were meant to wipeout in the first place.

    One thing we do in Alaska though, which is different, is everyone shares in the state’s wealth thru the PFD. And that does not discriminate no matter your heritage, ancestry, economic status or affiliation. It seems like that should be unifying us since the only requirement is that you call Alaska home.

    • Well, it would if Bryce Edgmon and the house majority hadn’t stole half of the PFD from everyone who needed it.

  • …more political correctness bullsh*t. Can you imagine if there was an Alaska Federation of Whites convention taking place in Fairbanks this weekend?

  • The life and times of the perpetually angry and offended.

  • Good point Ted!

  • The Native People were already here when we came, so Celebrate both. The Natives have a Heritage to Celebrate just the same as we do. Seymour Marvin Mills Jr. sui juris

  • Yes, we have our culture. It should be honored and not forgotten. I am a patriot and an American first. Choctaw a close second.

  • I’m Italian American. I love Columbus Day.

    • Nooooooo, not the Romans again!!!

    • I love pizza! I too love Columbus Day!

      • Basically, Columbus saved the world. No Columbus, no America as we know it. Russians or Germans or Japanese take over. So thank you Columbus. Russian food sucks.

        • Greg, I visited the old USSR as a young man in 1978. You’re right, except Russian food was worse than you describe.

          • I was trying to be kind. LOL. Sort of.

  • Would it be rude to suggest the misfits and revisionists get the hell over it?
    .
    Let them make all the noise they wish; history is what it is and no amount of tantrums and free media coverage will change it.

    • Yes it would. Everyone has a voice, and a constitution to sport it. Just because you are tired of hearing doesn’t mean it will go away. What do you want, are races to be assimilated into a big melting pot and loose their culture and identity? Come on!!!

  • The argument isn’t that Columbus discovered America. Obviously immigrants from Asia we’re here prior to Columbus or even Leif Erikson. My family was among those that migrated here. So if you’re saying Columbus didn’t discover America I’m right there with you, but things changed after Columbus landed on our shore and it could have been a lot worse if other people had gotten here first and manifest destiny played out in a different way. Whomever the conquerors might have been, they might have annihilated our entire native population with genocide. So Columbus landing was probably the best case scenario of preserving what we value today like afn, PFD, etc. Without Columbus, none of that would have happened. We’d all be speaking some foreign gibberish language it is if we survived at all.

  • They should thank God every day that the US bought it from Russia. What kind of deal do you think they would have got from the Russians?

  • Exactly. Alaskan Natives would have been second- or third-class citizens, basically held to be squatting by the scalding pot and still stuck in the Stone age. Russians have no honor and neither do the Japanese. Anytime you cut the head off of a baby of your enemy and stab it down on a sharp stick and make the parents walk by to see it everyday that’s b*******.

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