ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Some Alaska residents have questioned whether a statue of a British explorer in downtown Anchorage should be removed 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, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
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.
The statue located at downtown’s Resolution Park was a gift from oil company British Petroleum to the city as part of the American Bicentennial Celebration in 1976 and is a replica of one in Anchorage’s sister city of Whitby, England.
Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said Wednesday that he would like to modify the monument, agreeing with the Anchorage Sister Cities Commission, which suggested engaging with the community to decide how to modify the monument to also reflect the history of Alaska Natives.
“The Commission recognizes that the statue alone excludes the history of the indigenous people in what is now Anchorage,” the commission said in a letter Monday. “Rather than remove the statue, the Commission feels this situation can be instrumental as an opportunity to support a positive dialogue between us and our Sister City Whitby, as well as continued conversation and education among Anchorage’s diverse population.”
Some residents have continued to call for the statue’s removal, saying it may not be securely attached to its base. Others have asked Berkowitz and Police Chief Justin Doll to guard the statue to protect it from being demolished.
“To me, taking down the statue is a missed opportunity. In an ideal world, the statue would have never gone up,” said Aaron Leggett, Native Village of Eklutna president, Anchorage Museum curator and commission member. “We want to see more information there, we want to be acknowledged there, but we don’t necessarily want to see the statue taken down.”
He added: “Taking down the statue won’t change the name of the hotel across the street, or the Cook Inlet.”