This October 12 was momentous in Alaska, both Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and Alaska Gov. Bill Walker signed proclamations declaring the second Monday of October to be Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The state joins a number of other cities that have recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day, including Portland, Oregon and Albuquerque, New Mexico this year. South Dakota was the first state to rename the federal holiday as Native American Day in 1990.
“The more we can do to strengthen the ties between the communities that make up Anchorage and make up Alaska, the better,” Berkowitz told Alaska Dispatch News.
Liz Medicine Crow, president and CEO of First Alaskans Institute, told ADN that for her, the proclamations are, “a recognition that Indigenous Peoples matter to both the state of Alaska and the Municipality of Anchorage and it gives us a platform to continue to work on equitable law, policy and relationships.”
The proclamation from the governor’s office encourages “all Alaskans to celebrate the thriving cultures and values of the Indigenous Peoples of our region and to continue efforts to promote the well-being and growth of Alaska’s Indigenous community.”
The announcement Monday was met with loud cheers and applause from the hundreds gathered at the First Alaskans Institute Elders and Youth Conference. Many wanted their pictures taken with the proclamations, and for many this was a signal to move forward.
“It’s about damn time,” Willie Hensley, a former state legislator, told ADN with a laugh. To him, the proclamations mean everyone in the state can move forward together. “There’s been a lot of repression. It’s time that people are able to feel a lifting of that repression.”