Alaska reaches a historical milestone this week. On March 30th – 150 years ago – America signed a treaty to purchase Alaska from Russia.
Seward’s Day commemorates the man who brokered the $7.2 million dollar deal, then-Secretary of State William H. Seward. While critics called the deal “Seward’s Folly,” the treaty would forever change the history of the region.
After the transfer, Sitka – then called New Archangel – was Alaska’s capital. The city is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Treaty of Cession with a week of events focused on Russian, American, and Native culture. There’s a youth variety show, a concert of Russian folk music, and an art exhibit at Sitka National Historical Park.
“The idea behind this is to give artists the opportunity to voice their perspectives on the impacts of the Treaty of Cession and the transfer on the Alaska Native people and people in general throughout the state,” said Park Ranger Ryan Carpenter. “There are paintings, sculptures, some bead work, some digital art.”
Poetry will line Totem Trail, which leads to the battleground where the Kik.sadi clan clashed with Russian forces. The Russians would retain control of Alaska from that point onward.
Sitkans regard their history with mixed emotions and for many, the legacy of the transfer is a painful one. Organizers are calling it a commemoration, rather than a celebration, and collaborating with a variety of agencies to capture different perspectives.
Pat Alexander is a member of the Alaska Native Sisterhood, and also serves on the board of the Sitka History Museum.
“For 150 years, we have read the history of that transfer of Alaska from a non-Native point of view. This will be an opportunity for people to hear that story from a different perspective,” Alexander said.
Alexander is organizing, “A Time to Heal,” a presentation on Thursday (03-30-17) by clan leaders and Tlingit culture bearers offering their take on the history.
“It’s an invitation to the Native people of Sitka to start sharing their history with us, so the parts that they want can be captured in the museum to be shared with the greater world,” Alexander said.
This week is just the beginning for Sitka. The city is preparing to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the transfer ceremony on October 18th.
For a full schedule of Sesquicentennial events, visit alaska150.org.
Additional reporting by Melissa Marconi-Wentzel.