Respect Equality

Alaska removes colonial statue of first governor

george floyd minneapolis death police brutality protest riots black lives matter hate crimes law legislation sitka alaska alexander baranov governor colonial colonialist indigenous tribes protest

Story at a glance

  • Sitka County in Alaska removed a statue of the state’s first governor.
  • Officials are also considering whether to remove other statues of colonizers and explorers.

The growing movement to remove monuments and statues associated with slavery, colonialism, and police brutality has largely occurred in the continental U.S., especially in former Confederate states like Virginia, South Carolina and Mississippi.

In Alaska, a similar movement is now gaining traction. The statue of Alexander Baranov, a Russian colonialist, will be removed from its public perch after a July 14 vote in the Sitka Assembly, headquartered in southeast Alaska, The Associated Press (AP) reports. 

Baranov, the first chief manager of the Russian-American Co., was known as a cruel colonialist who enslaved and murdered Alaska Native people prior to the United States purchasing Alaska from Russia in 1867, according to AP. He is credited with founding Sitka, even though it was already inhabited by Alaska Natives.  

“The history of their legacies with the expropriation of Indigenous lands and resources, the suppression and eradication of Native cultures and societies, and the resulting damage and intergenerational trauma experienced by Native Peoples are ignored and not recounted in history,” Rosita Worl, president of the Sealaska Heritage Institute, told AP. The Sealaska Heritage Institute promotes the rights and history of Alskan tribes.

Under the proposal, the statue of Baranov will be relocated to a museum inside the Harrigan Centennial Hall. Sitka Historical Society Museum Executive Director Hal Spackman told AP that the relocation “promotes a respectful compromise in a difficult, somewhat divisive discussion.”

Petitions are also circulating to remove the statues of former U.S. Secretary of State and Alaska purchase architect William Seward and Capt. James Cook, a British explorer who has also been credited with discovering land where Indigenous people were already living. 

Following demonstrations in the lower 48 states in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, similar protests have occurred in Alaska, where organizations like the Alaska Native Sisterhood organized outside of Sitka County’s government building in late June, per KTOO.

“Symbols can evoke great pride, unity, fairness and life. Symbols–just like words and actions and violence–can hurt in a profound way,” Paulette Moreno, the president of the Alaska Native Sisterhood told reporters.

Additionally, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Tribal Council passed a resolution on July 1 endorsing the relocation of Baranov while emphasizing public spaces focus on showcasing the city’s diversity. The tribe advocates Sitka “should lead with our nationally recognized voice as a leader in wellness, reconciliation and healing,” the resolution reportedly read.