Anchorage will celebrate Juneteenth and Indigenous Peoples Day as municipal holidays after the Assembly on Tuesday voted unanimously to add both as paid days off for city employees.
Juneteenth marks the end of slavery in the United States, commemorating the day that the last slaves in the Confederacy were informed of their freedom following the Emancipation Proclamation on June 19, 1865. The holiday has long been celebrated among Black Americans, and a push for broad recognition of Juneteenth as an American holiday grew in 2020 amid nationwide protests against police shootings. In 2021, President Biden signed legislation making Juneteenth a federal holiday.
Juneteenth will be celebrated June 19 each year, and Indigenous Peoples Day will be the second Monday in October — Oct. 9 this year. The new holidays will go into effect for executive and non-union employees this year. The Assembly’s measure also directed the administration to work with labor union bargaining units to amend their contracts and add the holidays effective this year.
Indigenous Peoples Day honors Alaska Native and Native American history and is often observed in lieu of Columbus Day. In 2017, Alaska became the second state in the nation to recognize the holiday on the second Monday of October. Multiple states and dozens of cities recognize some form of the holiday, and Biden became the first president to formally commemorate the day in 2021.
Ayyu Qassataq, vice president of the First Alaskans Institute, testified in support of both holiday additions before the Assembly’s vote. Qassataq is Iñupiaq.
“The destinies of Indigenous and African American peoples have been intertwined since the country was built on indigenous land and African labor,” Qassataq said, adding that the U.S. has a long way to go in telling the history of all its people equally.
“Recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day and Juneteenth Freedom Day are but one step in elevating public consciousness of the rich and sometimes unjust histories of the vibrant peoples whose stories deserve to be recognized and respected,” Qassataq said.
Alaska Black Caucus President Celeste Hodge Growden also spoke.
“Black history is American history, and it’s also Alaskan history,” she said.
“Anchorage has been the territory of the Denaʼina people since time immemorial, since settlers brought inequality to these lands,” Growden said. “Alaska Native people have fought for their rights, and as Black Americans came to Alaska, many of them joined the struggle.”
On Wednesday morning, Growden said the Assembly’s vote Tuesday night was emotional for her and marked a big step forward for Anchorage.
“It’s huge,” she said. “... Last night I found I found myself even shedding tears, you know -- it was so unbelievable to see this come to fruition. The fact that we have Juneteenth and Indigenous Peoples Day connected is ... noteworthy. It is just timely for both groups, and I’m so happy for all of us.”
Growden said she hopes the state of Alaska will soon follow Anchorage and add Juneteenth as an official holiday. A bill introduced by Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson is under consideration in the Legislature.
Tuesday night’s ordinance got support from Mayor Dave Bronson after one last-minute change. The first version of the measure would have removed Seward’s Day as a holiday, but Bronson moved to keep Seward’s Day as a holiday, and the Assembly approved his amendment. Seward’s Day, March 27 this year, marks the signing of the Alaska Purchase treaty on March 30, 1867.
“This might be one of those rare instances where I think we can agree on something between myself and the Assembly. I think it is time that we recognize Juneteenth and Indigenous Peoples Day here in Alaska,” Bronson said.
Assembly member Felix Rivera said the new municipal holidays aren’t just days off.
“These holidays are a meaningful way to reflect on our community and what makes our communities so amazing,” Rivera said.
Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that the holidays will apply to executive and non-represented municipal employees, and that the ordinance directs the administration to work with labor union bargaining units to amend their contracts and add the holidays for union-represented city staff.