Alaska city relocates Russian colonist statue to museum

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James Poulson 2019

The Alexander Baranof statue, pictured with a patina of bird droppings in front of Harrigan Centennial Hall, was at the center of a protest Tuesday, June 23, 2020, just prior to a city Assembly meeting in Sitka, Alaska. An Alaska city assembly voted Tuesday, July 14, 2020, to relocate the statue of a Russian merchant that has drawn criticism as a symbol of colonialism and abuse of the region's Indigenous people. (James Poulson/Daily Sitka Sentinel via AP)

An Alaska city will relocate a statue of a Russian colonist accused of enslaving Alaska Natives while the area was under Russian control two centuries ago.

Assembly members in Sitka on Tuesday night approved moving the statue of Alexander Baranov, an early 19th century governor of Russian Alaska, to inside the Sitka Historical Society Museum. It’s currently located outside the Harrigan Centennial Hall, a civic center.

Albert Duncan, a Sitka resident and Alaska Native, asked the assembly to remove the statue “that causes me, and many of my people, to feel unwelcomed here. And it still causes grief, pain, and it reminds us of our historical trauma.”

Sitka, founded by Baranov in 1804, was the base of operations for fur traders with the Russian-American Company, of which Baranov was chief manager. The period was marked by bloody skirmishes among the Russians, the Tlingits and rival traders from Britain’s Hudson Bay Company.

In 1808, Sitka became the capital of Russian America, and it was the site where Russian transferred ownership to the United States in 1867.

The decision to move the statue immediately drew the ire of the Russian ambassador to the United States.

“We are disappointed that, against the backdrop of an overwhelming wave of desecration and demolition of monuments to historical figures during mass protests in the United States, the sculpture of the chief ruler of Russian settlements in North America, erected in 1989, nevertheless fell under the decision to dismantle,” Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov posted on the Embassy’s Facebook page.

Antonov said the assembly’s decision did not take into account the Russian-speaking community, but Russia didn’t try to block moving the statue.