JUNEAU, Alaska — As Alaska residents celebrated their state’s roots on its first Indigenous Peoples Day, community leaders made sure all those gathered know that the future of Alaska’s native traditions is bright.
Gov. Bill Walker attended Monday’s celebration at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall in Juneau. Walker issued a proclamation in 2015 that made Alaska the first state to officially celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day.
Speakers in Juneau talked about an upcoming program to teach employees native languages — a way to counter the generations of young Alaska Natives who were forced to not speak or write native.
Alaska Native Brotherhood Grand President Sasha Soboleff said the celebration was a long journey and a peek into the future. Soboleff disagrees with those who say the language and histories of Alaska Natives are fading away.
“It went underground,” Soboleff said of Native knowledge. “It didn’t disappear. Underground, it was waiting for all the eyes and ears to tune in once again to what it was like to be Native.”
In Fairbanks, the University of Alaska Fairbanks held a ceremony on land that will house an indigenous studies center in the future.
Evon Peter, vice chancellor for Rural, Community and Native Education, said the ceremony was full of inspiration. He hopes the rededicated holiday will increase people’s awareness and knowledge of Native Alaskans.
“Alaska’s 20 indigenous tribes (are) not really known or taught in school,” Peter said.
Anna Frank, who is the first female Native Alaskan or Native American to attain the status of an Athabascan elder and Episcopal priest, spoke at Fairbank’s ceremony. She agreed that history of indigenous tribes is lacking in schools, but acknowledged that Indigenous Peoples Day is a very important start to reclaiming importance.
“This is where we’re born, this is where we’re raised, and this is where we’re going to be buried,” she said.