After reading first, Rosita Kaahani Worl, Ph.D.’s letter and then Keith Phillips’ letter regarding the proposed removal of the William H. Seward statue in Juneau, I’d like to offer an observation.
Both letters offer a rational point of view (from the view of the authors) but they are positively on opposite sides of the debate. It’s not lost on me that Keith is saying in his letter that America (and Seward) have already been more than empathetic to Alaska Natives when put against the backdrop of Russian oppression of Indigenous peoples of that land. I have no doubts his facts are correct, and it’s awful to hear about Russia’s Indigenous People’s plight; however, it’s not to the point I’m trying to make here.
Worl and Alaska Natives have roots that go far beyond both Russian and American arrival. If you could imagine these two letters as a conversation between Keith and Worl you might come to the conclusion that Keith is, in effect, telling Worl and other Alaska Natives how they should feel about this multi-generational, complicated and historical situation for which they are already, to say the least, comprehensively aware. I think people of European descent, like me, can do more to validate and listen to the sovereign voices and choices of Indigenous people and people of color whether on the local or national level.
Now, is a very fertile, rich, and urgent moment to practice, develop and ultimately adopt this kind of empathy on a personal, community and governmental level.
With Respect for all,