Sunday, October 17, folks gathered on Noow Tlein (Castle Hill) to commemorate Reconciliation Day. Reconciliation Day is an attempt to recast Alaska Day. They gathered a day early because on Alaska Day, October 18, the hill was filled with military and costumed Sitkans reenacting the 1867 transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States. A transfer that the majority of inhabitants of Alaska had no say in. (On the 18th the hilltop was whipped by a stinging wind. The day before it was sunny and pleasant, so the Reconciliation Day celebrants choose well.)
The genesis of Reconciliation Day was in 2016 when Rachel Moreno, dressed in traditional regalia, carried a cardboard sign to the Alaska Day reenactment ceremony reading “Gunalchéesh Sheet’ka Kwan for you care of Tlingit Aani for time immemorial.” One of the Alaska Day organizers asked her to leave.
Some of the organizers realized their colleague’s mistake and invited the Kiks.ádi to take part the next year. Tribal elders decided to hold a mourning ceremony at the base of Noow Tlein instead. That was in 2017. I was one of about 60 people attending. There were similar ceremonies in 2018 and 2019. On Alaska Day 2020, while official ceremonies were canceled because of the pandemic about 25 people climbed Noow Tlein for a Reconciliation Day commemoration.
The 2021 gathering on the day before Alaska day. The Kiks.ádi sang a mourning song for the loss of land and then celebratory songs. The first celebratory song was new. “We’re still here.” Some of the dancers wore a new set of robes commemorating the interconnection between the herring and the people.
This year the official Alaska Day button proclaimed the theme “Coming Together.” It was a form of outreach. There was also a Reconciliation Day button.
I celebrate both days and hope that someday Sitka will have one celebration telling the complete story. Here are pictures from the Reconciliation Day gathering with the stunning new robes. To see pics from the Alaska Day parade on October 18, click here.