In the midst of divided reaction to a new policy of allowing Alaska Natives free admission to the Anchorage Museum, the museum has paused the policy to thoroughly review all aspects of it, said museum spokeswoman Janet Asaro.
“We are tuned in to public discussion of the policy,” the museum’s chief communications officer said Tuesday. “Because we treat all comments regarding museum policies, exhibitions, and events as individual feedback, we don’t want to generalize public response.”
“By taking this pause, we can make sure we are in line with our intention which is to honor Indigenous people and to provide access to their cultural belongings. We also want to fulfill broader community considerations, applicable museum guidelines, and the law,” she said.
No legal action has been taken against the original policy, which was first announced on Jan. 3.
One of the largest and most popular permanent displays at the museum is devoted to the art and culture of Alaska Native people.
The initial announcement won kudos from many, including the Native Village of Eklutna, which shared on Facebook “Great news for Anchorage’s original inhabitants.”
Then on Jan. 13, Anchorage attorney Donald Mitchell, author of two books on the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, wrote in a commentary published by the Anchorage Daily News titled “What is the Anchorage Museum thinking?”
Mitchell noted that the museum is owned by the municipality of Anchorage and contracts with the Anchorage Museum Association to manage the facility.
“As a consequence, the museum is subject to the Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and to section 3 of Article 1 of the Alaska Constitution, which prohibits discrimination based on ‘race, color, creed, sex, or national origin’,” Mitchell noted.
Is it legal, he asked, “that Alaska Natives get free admission while everyone else will continue to pay as much as $25 for a general admission ticket?”
Under the policy announced initially by the museum, the free admission is applied to any individual who approaches the ticket counter at the museum and declares that they are Alaska Native. No proof is required.
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) defines “Native” for the purpose of being eligible to own and vote stock in an ANCSA corporation to mean “a citizen of the United States who is a person of one-fourth degree or more Alaska Indian, Eskimo, or Aleut blood, or a combination thereof.”
Asaro said the museum plans to work with community partners, advisors and legal experts to fulfill broader community considerations, applicable museum guidelines and the law. Once that is done, the museum will determine its next steps, she said.
Meanwhile, the museum said in a statement that it “remain(s) deeply committed to the goals of honoring Indigenous people and improving access to their cultural belongings.”