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Juneau Assembly change land acknowledgment wording after Indigenous group dispute accuracy

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  The Juneau Assembly started to include a land acknowledgment as part of its regular meetings in February and made it an official part of meetings in May.

But then it got a letter from a group called the Áak’w Kwáan Coalition Council asking the city to stop acknowledging another clan, the T’aaḵu Kwáan, at the beginning of its assembly meetings.

Wayne Klusaa Áak’w Smallwood represents the Áak’w Kwáan Coalition Council. He says T’aaḵu Kwáan aren’t Native to the Juneau area and that they came from up the Taku River, in what is now Canada, to Juneau during the Gold Rush era.

“It’s just, CBJ shouldn’t be acknowledging anybody on our territory period, unless they acknowledge it correctly, which is Áak’w Kwáan,” he said.

Assembly member Christine Woll says the assembly made room for changes when it made the acknowledgment part of its regular meetings.

“We did receive a letter from the coalition, but we also received several other letters from others over the last few months, and so we’ve been evolving it as we go,” she said.

She says the assembly changed the language to mention the more inclusive “Tlingit people” instead of specific clans to make sure it’s honoring the intent of being respectful to the people who are Native to this land.

But for Smallwood, the change doesn’t go far enough.

“So I understand when it says you’re just going to acknowledge the Tlingit country, but there’s no tribe called the Tlingit tribe,” he said. “‘Tlingit’ the word itself means human.”

He also says it doesn’t resolve the issue of a totem pole at Savikko Park in Douglas, which also acknowledges the T’aaḵu Kwáan. The coalition sent a separate letter to the city about the totem pole.

Ben Ooskan Coronell who speaks for the T’aaḵu Kwáan says his clan is also a part of the Juneau’s past.

“What we’re missing out on is history,” he said. “When you deny it — our ancestors, our history — you’re denying that we exist.”

He says he’s not interested in disputes but wants to meet with the Áak’w Kwáan and the city about the land acknowledgment and the totem pole.

“I’m more interested in, what can we do to help develop this community,” he said. “And we’d be willing to compromise and meet with them to see what can we discuss.”

President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson of the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska said in a statement that the council is glad the city is starting the long-overdue practice of a formal land acknowledgment.

But he says the council is not taking sides on the issue between Áak’w Kwáan and T’aaḵu Kwáan because it does not “involve [itself] in clan business.”

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