'We Are On Their Land:' Museum Of The Aleutians Recognizes Indigenous Peoples' Day

Oct 14, 2020

Museum Director Ginny Hatfield said admission to the museum will be free through Saturday, and museum staff will be celebrating the holiday with a social media campaign that will highlight local Indigenous voices.
Credit Chrissy Roes/KUCB

In honor of Indigenous Peoples' Day, which took place on Monday, admission to Unalaska's Museum of the Aleutians will be free to the public through Saturday. 

Museum Director Ginny Hatfield said the museum will also be celebrating the holiday through a social media campaign in an effort to decolonize the nation's history. Museum staff plan to use the campaign as a platform to speak with Indigenous people in the region, as well as Unangax̂ community members.

Indigenous Peoples' Day was first proposed in 1977 to replace Columbus Day, a holiday which originated as a means of celebrating Italian-American heritage, but was protested by Native American people and advocates for Native rights because of its association with Christopher Columbus, who led the colonial destruction, massacre, and forced assimilation of Indigenous communities. Indigenous Peoples' Day is meant to draw attention to that colonial destruction and to honor Native and Indigenous communities as the first inhabitants of the Americas. According to Hatfield, Native peoples' histories run deep—at least 15,000 years, and locally, in the Aleutians, about 9,000 years. 

While the holiday falls on the same day as Columbus Day, and some institutions choose to recognize both, Hatfield said the museum is only recognizing Indigenous Peoples' Day.

"Even though Christopher Columbus may have been an important person in European history—and I would say he is—he also brought consequences to the Americas that were very dire," said Hatfield. "And so we want to recognize Native Americans at this juncture instead of colonizers." 

Hatfield recognizes that she is not Native American and the museum sits on Unangax̂ land that was never ceded to her or the institution. And she said that it is part of hers and the museum's job to be grateful and to honor the communities whose land they stand on.

Hatfield said Unalaska has a complex history and is made up of a "quilt of cultures," and it is also part of the museum's job to reach out to all of those communities, "and talk about our shared humanity and particularly bring to the forefront the history of the Unangax̂ culture because we are here—we are on their land," said Hatfield. "Their history is a long one, and it's been overshadowed a great degree." 

Hatfield added that communicating history, specifically the often overshadowed destruction of Native and Indigenous communities, is a complicated process that involves constant evaluation and reflection.

"We need to be aware of how we're telling these stories, to revise and reshape and refocus, so that we are attending to the different issues, different biases that happen, which are hard to avoid when we are interpreting history," explained Hatfield.

Hatfield invites the community to come celebrate Indigenous communities this week at the Museum of the Aleutians. While COVID-19 health regulations are still in place, which limit capacity and require social distancing and mask-wearing, she said people are encouraged to call the museum at 581-5150 or email museumofthealeutians@gmail.com to schedule a visit. For more information, visit the museum's website.