Juneau’s school board considers Tlingit land acknowledgment

The offices of the Juneau School District, pictured here on Aug. 6, 2020, are located at 1208 Glacier Ave., in Juneau.
The offices of the Juneau School District, pictured here on Aug. 6, 2020, are located at 1208 Glacier Ave., in Juneau. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Juneau’s school board is considering starting all of its meetings with an acknowledgment of local Alaska Native claims to their lands.

If approved, the board would make time to recognize Tlingit people as the land’s original inhabitants before opening its meetings.

Board member Martin Stepetin, who is Unangax, says he feels good about the idea.

Martin Stepetin Sr., watches results roll for a school board seat he has been running to fill. His challenger, Robert Mackey III is currently the front-runner in that race, but with more than 2,000 absentee ballots yet to be counted, the results are too close to call on Tuesday, October 1, 2019, in Juneau, Alaska.
Martin Stepetin Sr., watches results roll for a school board seat he has been running to fill on Tuesday, October 1, 2019, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney / KTOO)

“I think it represents where we stand in our values,” said Stepetin. “That’s how I feel as a school board member. And I would support having a land acknowledgment here on the school board.”

Board president Elizabeth Siddon says she’s optimistic about moving forward with a proposal to the board.

“This comes from a place of respect and is an opportunity for us as a board to both recognize the trauma, the history of trauma, and as a way to sort of acknowledge and honor the culture here in this place where we live moving into the future,” said Siddon.

The seven-member board voted unanimously to refer a proposal to the policy committee.

The concept of land acknowledgments in Alaska has been gaining ground in recent years. Late in 2020, Ketchikan’s school board started reading a land acknowledgment at the start of their meetings. In December, the Sitka School Board voted to consider adding a land acknowledgment to their meeting agendas.

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