Alaska News

As women’s marches rally for change across Alaska, Anchorage was missing

Women's March in Juneau

As a record number of newly-elected women flood Congress, Alaskans gathered across the state Saturday — though not in Anchorage — to rally for continued political change.

The women’s march, now in its third year, calls for broad social and political change across a spectrum of issues, from reproductive rights to environmental stewardship to violence against Native women. The Alaska rallies were held in solidarity with hundreds of women’s marches across the country.

In Alaska, Native women — and especially those who have gone missing or been killed — were a central issue in Saturday’s demonstrations. Demonstrators in Fairbanks acknowledged that they were on Native land before beginning their march, according to organizer Paige Poston. In Sitka and Juneau, hundreds of protesters dressed in red, a symbol of what’s known as “missing and murdered indigenous women.”

A recent report from the Seattle-based Urban Indian Health Institute identified 506 cases nationwide of Native women disappearing or being killed, nearly a third of which aren’t in any law enforcement record. Alaska has the fourth highest number of missing and murdered indigenous woman among the states surveyed in the report, and Anchorage has the third highest number among the cities surveyed.

“Reading the report about (missing and murdered indigenous women) was an epiphany for us,” said Maite Lorene, a Sitka librarian and one of the organizers of the 350-person march there. “Awareness is needed.”

Native presence was strong in both places, with Native speakers leading many of the presentations and Native music filling the air. Nancy Skeenyaa Tlaa Keen, a Tlingit woman and one of the organizers of the 650-person Juneau march, spoke with a reporter on the phone afterward, her voice hoarse from singing. In the background, a drum kept beat.

“I come from a long line of very strong women, and we’re just going back to what we already knew,” Keen said.

Many of the same issues surfaced hundreds of miles away in Nome, where signs demanding rights for Native women mingled with those demanding environmental change and abortion rights.

“You one day could be murdered. You one day could have a violent act inflicted upon you,” said Lily Fawn White, an organizer of the 30-person Nome march. “But that’s not something we have to sit back and deal with.”

Nome women's march
Women's March Homer
Women's March Juneau

Organizers across the state said this year’s marches seemed calmer than the original iteration, which took place in hundreds of cities across the country the day after President Trump’s inauguration. The number of participants was mostly on par with years past, but some organizers felt emotions weren’t running as high.

[From Juneau to Nome, Alaskans gather for Women’s March rallies]

“It was really just about creating an environment and trust and learning to understand our neighbors who don’t agree with us," said Satchel Pondolfino, one of the organizers of the 500-person march in Homer.

In Nome, people with conflicting opinions even marched side by side. White said she was carrying a sign advocating for abortion rights, while another member of the group carried her own sign advocating for the opposite. No conflict arose because of the difference, she said.

A few rallies even hosted educational events afterward to get participants directly involved in the rallying causes. A workshop hosted after the Fairbanks rally taught activists how to go about making public comment at local assembly meetings, organizer Paige Poston said.

"I think the larger impact of that will be felt later down the road,” Poston said.

No march was planned for Anchorage, and the organizers of last year’s march, which draw an estimated 3,000 demonstrators, seemed to be unclear on why. Most pointed to someone else as the one responsible for planning.

Some Alaska march organizers said activists distanced themselves from the women’s march after one of the founders of the national march organization publicly accused four of the organization’s leaders of anti-Semitism in November.

Kati Ward, who helped organize last year’s women’s march in Anchorage, said many of the usual organizers have simply taken on other endeavors. In their absence, plans for a march fell through, Ward said.

Another organizer from last year, Jeanna Duryee, said some of the Anchorage organizers came to her in early January asking if there was going to be a march, but because of the time and money required host the event, it was too late at that point. Between permitting and paying for police security, it takes about $5,000 to organize a march, Ward said.

Duryee doesn’t think Anchorage’s silence indicates a lack of motivation. She said she believes those involved with planning the march have been busy working toward the goals they marched for in years past.

“That was the goal, to take people’s anger and frustration and give it a direction,” she said. “The march isn’t a victory in and of itself. It’s what people do afterward.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that Kati Ward helped organize the 2018 women’s march in Anchorage as Alyse Galvin’s campaign manager. She was actually Galvin’s press secretary, but wasn’t yet serving in that role when she was worked on the women’s march.

Madeline McGee

Madeline McGee is a general assignment reporter for the Daily News.