Note: This was posted on my Facebook on June 7, 2020.
While we’re on the topic of taking down statues and other racist memorabilia internationally, we have our own Alaska pieces of “honor” it’s way past time to deal with.
When I lived in Kodiak, we lived on Ismailov Street, and then later, Baranov (Baranof) Street. How cool to learn in school that these great Russian explorers discovered Alaska and worked with the Native people. I remember proudly telling the class I lived on the street named after Baranov.
When we moved to Anchorage, I learned about the adventures of Captain Cook, his bravery in not only Alaska, but all over the world.
Now imagine how gutting, and even embarrassing, it was to learn when I was older about the truth of these men. Baranov, Ismailov, and Rezanov (all three parallel streets in the Kodiak map) enslaved the Unungax and Sugpiaq men, women and children. The favored tactic was to hold women and children hostage, murdering them in front of the men if the men refused to hunt for the Russian “businessmen.” Baranov was additionally in charge of the Russian side of the multiple battles against my Tlingit ancestors.
In Anchorage the name and memory of Captain Cook is everywhere, from the statue downtown to the literal renaming of the inlet we live beside to hotels and other businesses. But I was only taught a warped view of Cook in school. The true legacy of Cook is of dominance, white supremacy and erasure of indigenous people’s all over the world.
I can tell you the reverence I had been taught as a child about these men spoke so loudly to me about how I was valued by my community as a Native woman when I learned what they really did.
From Baranov to Cook to Andrew Jackson, I live in a land and society that continues to honor people who hated my people, who enslaved our Native cousins, who were active leaders in our holocaust.
That too often the names of these men actually replace the place names that they were called for millennia by the indigenous people is a violent act of white supremacy in itself. It reinforces who is most important, who has the power, and who will continue to hold onto that power.
These names and objects aren’t there to “teach history.” Statues like the Cook statue are there to honor Cook and his legacy, and that speaks volumes to the indigenous people who still live here. Continuing to honor men like Baranov and Jackson on our streets speaks volumes to me on what my community values.
It’s far past time to remove, rename, and reclaim. Symbols matter, and what we can learn in their removal is more valuable to our community than passively accepting this whitewashed version of our true history.
All our histories have atrocities in them. We don’t change our future by hiding that fact, but by revealing it, learning from it, and changing what we do tomorrow.