Sitka’s nearly 50-year old city seal is showing its age. Depicting a cannon aimed over Sitka Sound at something that looks like a Tlingit fort, the seal evokes a painful past for many in the community. Now, the Sitka Assembly is getting behind a proposal to redesign it.
Assembly member Kevin Knox said the seal represents historic and generational trauma for Sitka’s Tlingit community. Sitka Tribe of Alaska Tribal Council and the assembly discussed changing the seal when the two groups met for a government-to-government meeting last fall.
“The dialogue in the community around historic trauma and reconciliation is not something that’s new to a lot of us. There’s a growing depth to that conversation. And the seal in some capacity represents some of that trauma,” he said. “If you take a close look at it- the representation of the cannon pointed toward the old historic fort represents some of that trauma.”
Knox sponsored the discussion item along with member Steven Eisenbeisz. The two proposed starting the public process to create a new seal, budgeting $1,000 to the winner of a design contest. City staff will take the finalists around to all of the city committees and commissions, and host a public forum on the redesign. Then all of the information from the “roadshow” would go back to the assembly for final selection and approval of a new city seal.
Eisenbeisz said it took a long time for him to finally notice the full picture illustrated on the seal, but when he took a closer look, he realized that a change was in order.
“Yes the seal has served us for many, many years, but I think in this instance we have an opportunity to do better and that we can do better,” he said.
Assembly members Thor Christianson and Kevin Mosher agreed. Richard Wein also said he was in support of a seal redesign, but had some questions about the process and the cost to switch over things like letterheads and decals on city vehicles- he wondered if some things could be grandfathered in to save some money in the process.
Assembly member Valorie Nelson said she wasn’t willing to approve a redesign until she could see all of the costs outlined. And she said some Sitkans were concerned that redesigning the seal was “rewriting history.”
“Well I don’t think we’re trying to rewrite history. We’re trying to make some people feel better about the trauma. But when I look at the seal I don’t see it as pointing towards the fort,” she said. “And when I go to Castle Hill- I see the cannon pointing out as if it’s protecting all of us. But I wasn’t there when the fort was blasted, and my relatives weren’t involved. I’m an immigrant.”
Sitka Tribe of Alaska chair Kathy Hope Erickson attended the meeting. Speaking to KCAW as an individual, she said she remembers when a seal redesign was first brought forward by current Mayor Gary Paxton when he was Sitka’s city administrator and she was the city clerk. That was 20 years ago. She said she was glad that the issue was returning to the assembly table, and that assembly members should do whatever it takes to keep up the momentum.
“I think there are some items that rise above what the cost is going to be and this is certainly one of them,” she said. “We have enough people that have thought deeply about this [seal] and agree that it is something that does not represent Sitka.”
Although there was consensus on the idea, no vote was taken on the plan this time around. Members Eisenbeisz and Knox will gather more information for the assembly, and at a future meeting the group will officially decide on how to move forward with the seal redesign contest.
The City and Borough of Sitka provides minutes, and video or audio of each Sitka Assembly meeting online.