What is the Sesquicentennial?

Sesquicentennial is a jawbreaker word, too big even for Scrabble, but it does have a noble ring to it. Its meaning is far simpler: 150th anniversary. Any anniversary worth such a big name also is worth a good party, and this time the party is for Alaska: 2017 marks 150 years since the United States purchased this Great Land from Russia.

Gov. Bill Walker, accordingly, issued a proclamation in October, declaring 2017 Alaska’s “Year of History and Heritage.” Observations are planned around the state, including on the Kenai Peninsula.

Special concerts will mark the occasion. The Anchorage-based Russian American Singers will be busy. In the spring they are teaming with local partners and Moscow Nights, a folk music trio from Russia, to present a concert tour of Native, Russian and American music. In the fall, members from the singers hope to stage a second production, a traveling multimedia musical history revue. The Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, Alaska Chamber Singers and Anchorage Concert Chorus will present excerpts from the classic Russian opera, “Boris Godunov,” on April 1.

Sitka, formerly Novo-Arkhangelsk (New Archangel) and the capital of Russian America, is particularly enthused about the sesquicentennial. At the end of March it will have performances, speakers, a Native art exhibit, and museum exhibitions to mark the special Seward’s Day (March 30). The town plans to dedicate a new museum. It will host another round of special events on and around Alaska Day, on Oct. 18. In addition to the annual reenactment of the transfer ceremony at Castle Hill, Sitka will host a speakers’ series, a Tlingit Clan Conference and Alaska Day Ball.

The Anchorage Museum, downtown on C Street, will explore the past 150 years of relations between Alaska and Russia in the show “Polar Bear Garden.” Juneau, which became the capital soon after the U.S. purchase, plans to unveil a commemorative statue of William H. Seward on July 3. Kodiak plans special lectures and a summer exhibit at the Baranov Museum.

Here on the Kenai Peninsula, we will host the first local history conference since the 1974. The main event, titled 150 Years: Kenai Peninsula History Conference, will be April 21-22, at the Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus in Soldotna. Details of the schedule and registration are still in the planning stages.

But the volunteer organizers do know this: Our conference is a chance for locals to meet the people who know the most about the Kenai Peninsula’s adventurous past. Amateur and professional historians, anthropologists and culture bearers from as far away as Russia will join Alaskans to share their knowledge, answer questions, and discuss the peninsula’s unique cultural legacies.

In his proclamation, Gov. Walker wrote “… our state is a living fabric of many cultures, with the strongest thread being our shared sense of community.”

The upcoming history conference is a chance for peninsula people to celebrate and explore the area’s diversity with its enduring and vibrant mix of Dena’ina, Sugpiaq, Russian, and Euro-American melting pot cultures, and to strengthen our shared sense of community.

Our conference will give people an opportunity to discuss the legacies of the past and how they can inform a better future. Echoes of local history endure in issues such as race relations, land claims and sustainable resource use.

This column is the first in a series that will appear in this paper leading up to the April conference. The series will share the stories behind Alaska’s and the peninsula’s histories and inform the community about upcoming events for the 150th anniversary.

For more information about 150 Years: Kenai Peninsula History Conference, check out its website at http://www.kenaipeninsulahistory.org/ and its Facebook page.

Shana Loshbaugh, a former Clarion reporter, is lead organizer of 150 Years: Kenai Peninsula History Conference, planned for April 21-22 at Kenai Peninsula College in Soldotna.

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