ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - As statues around the nation are being removed for their ties to slavery in the U.S., a statue in Anchorage has come under scrutiny.
In a joint letter, the Mayor of Anchorage, Ethan Berkowitz, and President of the Native Village of Eklutna, Aaron Leggett, said the decision of what to do with the Captain James Cook statue in downtown Anchorage will be made by the village.
“The statue is but one symbol among many that fail to fully and fairly recognize Anchorage’s First People,” they said in the letter.
The joint letter was written in response to a letter from the Anchorage Sister Cities Commission who had written to the mayor after “recent social media posts calling for the removal” of the statue circulated online.
“The Commission recognizes that the statue alone excludes the history of the indigenous people in what is now Anchorage. Rather than remove the statue, the Commission feels this situation can be instrumental as an opportunity to support a positive dialogue between us and our Sister City Whitby,” the commission said in their statement.
Leggett, who also serves on the Sister Cities Commission, said removing statues is not his goal, but educating people with a more comprehensive narrative — one that fully represents indigenous voices — is ideal.
“To me, what I’m interested in is not just taking those things down,” Leggett said. “What I’m interested in is changing the systems by which we educate people and the histories.”
Captain Cook was a British explorer who came to Alaska in 1778 and was credited with mapping a large portion of Alaska. Many things in Alaska are named for him including Cook Inlet and Hotel Captain Cook. Leggett said Cook has gotten an inordinate amount of credit for his time in Alaska, credit that ignores the history of indigenous people in the region. Cook came to Alaska 200 years ago. The Dena'ina people had already been in the region for thousands of years, the joint letter states.
“Yes it does remove that symbol of colonial oppression, but it doesn’t change the narrative. And what I want is to change the narrative and the narrative is that Cook was here for two weeks. He never got off the boat. He didn’t like this area,” Leggett said.
According to the Siter Cities Commission, the statue is a replica of a statue in Whitby, Yorkshire where Cook lived while he was training at a shipping firm.
The Native Village of Eklutna wasn’t given a role in the creation of the statue, Leggett said, and this move from the municipality is recognizing that indigenous voices are key in this discussion. Berkowitz and Leggett said this is the beginning of a conversation about how places have been named, oftentimes excluding indigenous contributions.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the indigenous perspective has been ignored or romanticized so that has to change. That has to change, I’d say, with some swiftness,” Leggett said.
A decision hasn’t been made on what will happen to the statue, but Leggett said he would like to see modifications at the statue site that represent the Dena’ina voice.
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