Alaska tribe to decide fate of European explorer statue

In this Wednesday, June 17, 2020 photo, a statue of Captain James Cook stands on a plinth in Resolution Park overlooking the Cook Inlet near 3rd Avenue in Anchorage, Alaska. The mayor of Anchorage has asked the Native Village of Eklutna to determine what happens to a statue of a British explorer following calls for its removal. Native Village of Eklutna President Aaron Leggett says a decision has not yet been made on what will happen to the statue, but he would like to see modifications at the site that would include the history and voice of Alaska Natives. (Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News via AP)
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska The mayor of Anchorage has asked the Native Village of Eklutna to determine what happens to a statue of a British explorer following calls for its removal as monuments to historical figures are being dismantled across the country.

The statue is of Captain James Cook, who came to Alaska in 1778 in what is now known as Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet while searching for the Northwest Passage as an explorer for the British government.

Cook and his crew were the first Europeans to set foot in the region and were credited with discovering land that was already inhabited by Indigenous people.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and Native Village of Eklutna President Aaron Leggett wrote a joint letter saying that “the statue is but one symbol among many that fail to fully and fairly recognize Anchorage’s First People.”

The letter was written in response to the Anchorage Sister Cities Commission, which suggested modifying the monument to reflect the history of Alaska Natives.

“Consequently, as part of the government-to-government relationship between the Municipality of Anchorage and the Native Village of Eklutna, we seek to establish a process that respects the crucial role and sovereign authority of local tribes as we more fully and fairly portray Alaska’s past,” the letter said.

Leggett said this is the most significant recognition from an Anchorage official of the village being a sovereign government. The Native Village of Eklutna is the only tribal government within the boundaries of the Municipality of Anchorage. It became federally recognized in 1982.

A decision has not yet been made on what will happen to the statue, but Leggett said he would like to see modifications at the statue site that represent the history and voice of the Dena’ina people.