On March 30, 1867, the United States of America officially purchased the territory of Alaska. We commemorate the day as the state’s Seward’s Day holiday, since Secretary of State William H. Seward was the person who made it happen.
I admire Mr. Seward for many things. He worked with President Lincoln even though they were formally political rivals, and did much to advance progressive causes of the day. He was an abolitionist and supported immigrants. He continued public service even after being seriously wounded when someone attempted to assassinate him. But that doesn’t mean he was perfect, either. He could be condescending to marginalized people, and too ready to colonize other territories. Some people today see him as misguided, or politically correct for those times but not ours.
I have mixed feelings about celebrating the holiday this year. I understand why some people consider this day a tribute to colonization. The United States bought territory that was never ceded by the Alaska Natives who had been here for thousands of years. American officials and missionaries often mistreated the indigenous people, from 1867 through modern times. I don’t condone or excuse the prejudice and discrimination that is a legacy of that colonization.
At the same time, I have to acknowledge that I wouldn’t be here if Alaska wasn’t part of the Untied States. My family arrived when my father was stationed here thanks to the U. S. Army. And I have many privileges because of the transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States. I’m grateful for that, and my life here.
Still, I know we have a lot of work left to do, to right the wrongs and make this a better place for all Alaskans. May we all consider that as we celebrate Seward’s Day.