James Cook statue’s fate to be decided by Alaskan indigenous people

Local indigenous people in Alaska will decide the fate of a statue of Captain James Cook, which stands on a plinth in Resolution Park overlo Credit: Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News/AP

The mayor of Alaska’s biggest city has asked the local indigenous people to decide the fate of a statue of British explorer Captain James Cook as monuments to historical figures are dismantled around the world.

Cook and his crew were the first Europeans to set foot in the region in 1778, arriving in what is now called Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet while searching for the Northwest Passage on behalf of the British Government.

Anchorage mayor Ethan Berkowitz and Native Village of Eklutna president Aaron Leggett wrote a joint letter saying that “the statue is but one symbol among many that fail to fully and fairly recognise Anchorage’s First People”.

The letter was written in response to the Anchorage Sister Cities Commission, which suggested modifying the monument to reflect the history of Alaska’s indigenous people.

The letter added: “Consequently, as part of the government-to-government relationship between the Municipality of Anchorage and the Native Village of Eklutna, we seek to establish a process that respects the crucial role and sovereign authority of local tribes as we more fully and fairly portray Alaska’s past,” the letter said.

A decision has not yet been made on what will happen to the statue, but Mr Leggett said he would like to see modifications at the statue site that represent the history and voice of the Dena’ina people.

It comes as cities around the world take steps to remove statues that represent cultural or racial oppression, following the death of black man George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.

Conservative politicians in Australian have resisted calls to remove statues of Cook, with the premier of the most populous state even considering tougher laws to protect monuments after memorials to the explorer were defaced.

And Middlesbrough’s elected mayor Andy Preston has stood up for the explorer and navigator, who has a statue in his home town, as well as in Great Ayton and Whitby, in North Yorkshire.