A statue of William Henry Seward, former U.S. Senator and governor of New York, Vice President and Secretary of State who negotiated the purchase of the Alaska territory from the Russian Empire in 1867 on Tuesday, June 16, 2020. A petition has been circulating online calling for the statue’s removal, citing Seward’s relationship with Alaska Natives. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

A statue of William Henry Seward, former U.S. Senator and governor of New York, Vice President and Secretary of State who negotiated the purchase of the Alaska territory from the Russian Empire in 1867 on Tuesday, June 16, 2020. A petition has been circulating online calling for the statue’s removal, citing Seward’s relationship with Alaska Natives. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Opinion: Imagine living in Russia

Is this statue a polarizing issue? Which side are you on?

  • Tuesday, June 30, 2020 10:34am
  • Opinion

I have read with interest the article dated June 23, 2020 by the Associated Press titled “Petition seeks removal of statue of William Seward,” and found numerous media sources that have broadcast or re-published the article.

This article and the response to it has raised many questions for me. Is this statue a polarizing issue? Which side are you on? What will be accomplished if the statue is removed?

[Polarizing petition: Hundreds call for statue’s removal]

I was born in the territory of Alaska and have lived my entire life in this beautiful land. I am a sixth generation native Alaskan of Alutiiq descent with deep roots in the Kodiak Island archipelago. Yet, only my mother was of Alaska Native blood. My father hails from a bloodline whose influence and ancestors’ names dot our nations’ history back into the 1600s. While my father was oppressive to my mother’s desire to teach her Alaska Native traditions and customs to her children, my mother was not without fault — she was oppressive to introducing my father’s family customs to our family. They were both flawed. I will not discount the value either of them contributed to the equation of my existence. I am a champion for positive change. Spewing hatred and drawing combative lines in the sand is not effective.

William Seward was a champion for change. Had he not pushed for the U.S. acquisition of our great land, who knows what life would have been for our ancestors, let alone the atrocities we would face living in Russia today? Considering how the Russian empire pillaged the Indigenous people and how they raped the natural resources of Alaska back then, I can’t begin to imagine that life for the Indigenous people would be better living under the regime of czarist Russia or of modern-day Russia.

Seward, like 100% of the humans on this Earth, was a flawed human. Yet, he served his country as a civil servant for most of his adult life. While I appreciate the argument to highlight the many gross inequities of the indigenous people of Alaska, let’s not disenfranchise every other influence on our state — and let’s especially not attempt to diminish or erase the influence of the person who nearly single-handedly advanced the US acquisition of Alaska from Russia. Again — I encourage all Alaska Native people to try to imagine what life would have been like for your ancestors and for you had Alaska remained as a Russian possession.

Humans are a flawed creation; for that reason alone, there will never be complete peace among us. Neither side of any battle will get all that they want. We cannot re-write history. Yet, when people are willing to lay down their weapons, to stop fighting, and to listen respectfully to each other, positive change can happen.

Removing the statue of William Seward solves nothing. It simply shifts an argument from one side of the table to the other, without providing a solution. Some are offended by the statue, while others will be offended by its removal.

Speaking as a native-born Alaskan of both Alaska Native and non-native blood, I have signed a Change.org petition to block the removal of this statue. I propose that Seward’s statue remains, and that a substantial monument — not just a statue — be commissioned to recognize and to honor the heritage, strength, beauty, intelligence, talent and voices, of all the Indigenous peoples of Alaska. Such a monument should be a collaboration of several Native groups and should be reflective of all tribes of indigenous peoples of Alaska.

• Vicki Randolph is a resident of Palmer. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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