Happy “Birthday,” Alaska!

Fifty years ago, Alaska became America’s 49th state. But Alaska Natives have lived here for thousands of years.

I spent the rainy days of my fourth week learning more about Alaska’s rich history. I visited the Anchorage Museum, Native Heritage Center, and Aviation Museum. The Anchorage Museum displayed extensive information about ancient archaeology and Alaska Natives’ subsistence lifestyle, Captain Cook and the Russian conquest, Seward’s Folly, Christian missionaries, the aviation era, railroads, the Klondike gold rush, World War II, 1959 statehood, the 1964 Good Friday earthquake, the trans-Alaska pipeline, permanent fund dividends, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and Sarah Palin. An entire floor of art galleries featured the work of Sydney Laurence and illustrations from Captain Cook’s Arctic voyages. His South Pacific journals in Stanford’s Rare Book Collection are remarkable, and here I saw his men pointing rifles at Alaskan walruses, which they called sea horses. One sailor thought it would be anti-Christian to eat them. At the traveling Gold exhibition I read about both Australia and Alaska’s gold rushes and marveled with some disgust at extravagant Gilded Age artifacts like a baby rattle with an ivory handle and circular gold baubles.

The Native Heritage Center also impressed me. Aboriginal Australian Dreamtime Centers were some of my most memorable visits on that continent, so I was excited about the positive press this Alaskan version has received. Eleven different Alaska Native cultures exist, and the 1971 Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act formed thirteen Native corporations. However, the center organized itself around five broader cultural groups. I watched an interesting film about hunting walrus for their meat and tusks, and a fascinating exhibit on Alaska Native values reminded me of the principles of Unitarian Universalism and Shotokan karate. Here are my favorites:

See Connections: All Things are Related
Know Who You Are: You Are a Reflection on Your Family
Honor Your Elders: They Show You the Way in Life
Take Care of Others: You Cannot Live Without Them
Accept What Life Brings: You Cannot Control Many Things

Before I leave, I also hope to explore the Russian Orthodox churches on Kenai Peninsula as well as Girdwood’s Crow Creek Mine and Talkeetna’s nationally recognized historic buildings.

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