Letters to the Editor

Letter: Don’t blame Baranov

I wish to challenge the idea that the statue of Alexander Baranov should be removed from Sitka. I understand the need for a balanced view of history, and many times we have not done well at it. In fact, we have often overlooked a considerable portion of our history to advance a narrative that favors one group of people above another. I admit that, especially among the Native Americans in Alaska, the real history has been often overlooked or even hidden from the history books.

Having said this, I feel that removing the statue of the first Russian Governor in Alaska will not change anything and even cause a greater loss of the history of our state. Rather, would it not be better to resolve the issue in another manner? We often forget how the Natives of Alaska were treated by the Russians compared to the way they were treated by the United States authorities following the purchase of Alaska in 1867.

May I remind us all of the positive impact that the Russian-controlled colony compared to the American-controlled one? The Russians called these people "Americans," not Natives. They brought them the Christian faith through Russian Orthodoxy. They build schools, hospitals and places of worship and community centers for the betterment of the "Americans." They were protected by Russian law to such a point that if a Native was accused of a major crime, his prosecution was in the hands of a procurator sent from Russia to judge the case, not the local authorities. 

The Russians sent many Natives who were seen to make good contributions to the general society to Russian schools of higher education. The Russians produced Native priests, iconographers, education leaders for each community they were involved in. Said another way, they treated these "Americans" as equals, not slaves. 

While it is true that the Russians who came for the fur harvest often took advantage of some Native Alaskans, the ultimate goal was to improve their way of life. Much of this occurred under the leadership of Alexander Baranov. Was he perfect? No, and neither were any of his successors. But compared to the treatment of these Alaskans under the supervision of those sent to Alaska to make them "real" Americans under Sheldon Jackson, the difference is dramatic.

I think Alaska Natives should be more offended by the “Sheldon Jackson Museum” (formerly school) than by Alexander Baranov. If the City Council of Sitka wants to consider doing anything to help ease the offense suffered by Alaska Natives, it should be the removal anything related to Sheldon Jackson, not Alexander Baranov.

Archbishop David Mahaffey 

Bishop of Sitka and Alaska, Orthodox Church


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