Crystal Duncan became interested in local government this fall, while working on an initiative to remove a controversial statue from a prominent place on city property. She’s now one of eight candidates vying for a seat on Sitka’s Assembly.
“K’ayéitl’i yóo xat duwasáakw. Ch’áak’ naax xát sitee. Teikweidée áyá xát. Kiks.ádi yadix xát sitee. My English name is Crystal; my Tlingit name is K’ayéitl’i. I follow in my mother’s lineage, so I am from the eagle brown bear clan out in Angoon,” says Duncan. “I am a child of the Kiks.ádi, which is my father, he originates from Sitka.”
Duncan works with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) as a regional liaison to SEARHC- and recently earned her Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
She doesn’t have previous government experience and did not intend to run for public office, that is until this summer when she began organizing a large group effort to move the statue of Alexander Baranov from in front of Centennial Hall.
“I realized on July 14 that I had no idea how to get that done. I wasn’t sure if I reached out to the city, the Tribe, how does this all work?” she says. “I was at the assembly meeting where they were going to take a vote [to move the statue], I looked up, and I realized that I didn’t see myself reflected in the current membership, and that had me bringing up questions about access and diversity.”
Duncan says she was troubled by the lack of diversity at the assembly table.
“If we look back at the 2010 census, we saw that approximately 37 percent of this community is made up of people of color, and that 49 percent of this community is made up of women,” she says. “But when we look at our current representation, I don’t see myself, and therefore others like me who are represented in that group.”
Duncan says she’s not just interested in removing statues- she’s also moved to run for office by all of the changes 2020 has brought to the United States and Sitka. Duncan says she commends the current assembly for how it has handled the coronavirus pandemic.
“Whether it was wearing masks in public, or quarantine restrictions related to travel, those are big decisions and it was kind of resting on seven folks,” she says.
But she thinks the assembly’s work to address challenges with COVID-19 is far from finished.
“We’re not through COVID, we’re still in the thick of it and the person elected into this position, they’re really going to have to hit the ground running,” she says. “That’s something I think I can do.”
As an assembly member, Duncan says she wants to draw on both community and expert knowledge.
“There are going to be unknowns, but there are people who are experts in these fields,” she says. The experts on the community of Sitka are residents of Sitka. I’m here and I guess my goal over those three years would be to open up those lines of communication, and ensure people feel comfortable accessing this power structure.”
Crystal Duncan is one of 8 people vying for two open seats on the Sitka Assembly, being vacated by members Richard Wein and Steven Eisenbeisz. The municipal election is Tuesday, October 6.