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Sitka National Hitorical Park Celebrates 100 Anniversary this Year

Sitka National Historical Park

National Park News


Park Celebrates 100 Anniversary this Year

by Sentinel Staff   

Friday, February 12, 2010

On March 23, 1910, President William Howard Taft signed an executive order creating the Sitka National Monument.   The acreage along Indian River had been a federal reserve since 1890, and was already home to the Southeast Alaska totem poles collected by Gov. John G. Brady, and which had already been displayed at two world fairs.   But it is the centennial of Sitka National Monument, now Sitka National Historical Park, that is being celebrated this year, with commemorative activities starting in March and continuing through the year.   

Park Superintendent Mary Miller said she wants the celebration to be an outreach to the residents of Sitka particularly.   The park is among the five oldest as a federally-designated reserve. It is home to a world-famous collection of totem poles, commemorates the Battle of 1804 which was fought at a site within the park, and since 1969 has been home to the Sitka Cultural Center, formerly the Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center. With acquisition of the Russian Bishop's House in 1972, the national monument was renamed Sitka National Historical Park.     

The centennial celebration will begin in March and continue through the year.   
 Miller gave this rundown of centennial events, beginning with a ``Battle Ride'' led by Richard and Nora Dauenhauer on Saturday, March 20, retracing the events of the battles of 1802 and 1804. The Dauenhauers are authors of ``The Russians in Tlingit America.''   The first portion will be an offshore tour of the waterfront between Old Sitka and Indian River aboard an Allen Marine tour boat. The final portion of the tour will be a walk through the park to the 1804 battle site.   Participation for the water tour will limited to 140. Miller said details on how to sign up will be announced later, adding that she wants to make it affordable to all who want to attend.  

 Also on March 20, a community picnic is planned in the park, with hamburgers, ice cream and iced tea, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sitkans and visitors alike will be invited to enjoy free rides from downtown Sitka and along Lincoln Street to the park, re-enacting the ``rides to the Indian River and Totem Poles'' by non-motorized conveyances that were advertised in the early 1900s.     

The centerpiece of the celebration on Sunday, March 21, will be the presentation to the park of a specially-commissioned Raven's Tail Robe designed and woven by Teri Rofkar. The event is scheduled for 1 to 3 p.m. at the park's visitor center, with local dance groups performing that evening at Centennial Hall.     

On Monday, March 22, there will be an open house and tours of the Russian Bishop's House, the SNHP visitors center and the Sitka Cultural Center.  On Tuesday, March 23, resident artists at the cultural center will host morning and afternoon workshops for Sitka school children. On that evening a rotating exhibit of photographs by E. W. Merrill will open in the main hall of the visitors center.   A keynote speaker will explain the significance of Merrill's work and introduce the first display, a selection of Merrill photographs of the park and its totems.   Merrill was commissioned by territorial Gov. John Brady to arrange the totems in the park upon their arrival in Sitka from Portland, Ore., where they had been part of the Alaska exhibit at the 1904 Lewis and Clark Exposition. Earlier, they had been at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, Mo.   Working first as an unpaid volunteer, Merrill became the first paid caretaker of the park in 1916 when the National Park Service was created.   Continuing through the month of April there will be a weekly rotation of Merrill photographs from among the 200 in the historical park's collection, and evening programs themed to specific aspects of his work. Subjects will range from area flora and fauna to Tlingit history and culture, Sitka area historic sites, the totems themselves, and the art of photography.   Miller said Sitka's park is unusual among the national parks throughout the country because of its ``urban interface.''  She said she wants to make the park ``more open'' for year-round enjoyment by people of all ages.  ``This is sacred ground,'' said Miller, adding that the history and the cultural significance of the site are overlaid by the park's mission to be accessible to the public and preserved for the enjoyment of future generations. 
The centennial celebration, ``looking forward into the next 100 years,'' will continue through the year, Miller said.    A park employee reunion is planned for April, and in June a conference will be held on the historic Aulutiiq connection to Sitka. The Russians brought Aleut hunters to Sitka, where they became a permanent presence. The park will host a Tlingit-Alutiiq program June 17-19, with participation by students and elders from Kodiak Island villages.   A new totem pole will be erected in ceremonies set for July 23 and 24.   In August, the fourth International Conference on Russian America will open here. Two previous conferences were hosted by Sitka National Historical Park, and the most recent, in 2007, was held in Irkutsk, Russia.   The conference, scheduled Aug. 19-22, is co-sponsored by the International Association of Specialists on Russian America, and is expected to draw participants from Russia, Canada and the U.S.   

A side effect of all the centennial activities, Miller said, will be promoting Sitka as a visitor destination, with benefits to the local economy.  


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