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'Racial incident' mars close of Alaska Native festival in Juneau

Jerzy Shedlock

Juneau Police say a racially-fueled incident marred the closing of an Alaska Native dance and culture festival on Saturday in the state's capital city, and they're still looking for a suspect.

The incident happened at the end of Sealaska Heritage Institute's Celebration 2014, according to a Juneau Police Department press release. The event is held every two years and draws thousands of participants to Juneau. Sealaska is one of 13 regional corporations created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Based in Southeast Alaska, it serves Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Alaskans.

On Saturday morning around 9:30, Native veterans were serving as flag bearers as they led a parade through downtown Juneau. The vets formed a corridor on Willoughby Avenue next to Centennial Hall for dancers to pass through as they finished the parade.

As they stood in place, a white man grabbed an American flag out of the hands of a 67-year-old Native veteran located at the end of the parade and began yelling "racial slurs" at the man and the crowd "and attempted to spit on the flag," Juneau police reported.

He then tried to run off with the flag, but people in the area wrestled it away from him. The man then fled, shoving people -- including a 53-year-old woman -- as he ran away, the release said.

Juneau police Lt. Kris Sell said her department doesn't know if the man was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. No witnesses reported the suspect as being visibly impaired, she said. Two officers on bikes, one of whom was Sell, unsuccessfully searched for the suspect -- as did a patrol car.

Police are asking for the public's help in locating the man, described as between 30 and 50 years old. During the incident, he was wearing a lighter-toned, multi-colored knit hat under the hood of a dark jacket.

Police say many people were spotted taking pictures and video of the dancers passing through the corridor of flags, and they are offering a reward for a photo, video, or any other information that leads to the suspect's identification.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Juneau Police Department at 907-586-0600 or submit a tip on the Juneau Crime Line website .

If located, the man could face a single count or a combination of fourth-degree assault, disorderly conduct or harassment charges, all misdemeanors.

Since she began working at the police department 17 years ago, Sell contended she's never heard or seen any similar incidents occurring during the festival, which began in 1982.

"It's very unfortunate that it happened, and we're working to get to the bottom of it," she said.

Reach Jerzy Shedlock at jerzy@alaskadispatch.com

 


JERZY SHEDLOCK
jerzy@alaskadispatch.com