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Anchorage Museum makes admission free for Indigenous Alaskans

The Anchorage Museum exterior declares the land Dena’ina homelands.
Jim R. Kohl
/
Anchorage Museum
The Anchorage Museum exterior declares the land Dena’ina homelands.

The Anchorage Museum is no longer charging an admission fee for Alaska Native visitors.

The new policy went into effect at the start of the year. Museum director Julie Decker said that no proof of identity is required.

“People can state that they’re Alaska Native at the front admission desk and they will not be charged admission,” Decker said.

The move was not controversial for the museum staff or the board, Decker said. She pointed out that a significant portion of the museum’s collection comes from Alaska’s Indigenous cultures.

“I think it’s really a celebration of our place, of who we are,” Decker said. “I think it’s recognizing the Alaskans and people who have made this their home for millennia.”

Several museums in Canada offer free admission to Indigenous people. It’s not common in the United States, but the Anchorage Museum isn’t the first.

Michael Fredericks is Yup’ik and grew up in Anchorage. She said that the museum’s work to amplify Indigenous identity attracted her, specifically its very visible land acknowledgement.

“When the signage went up on the side of the museum that says ‘This is Dena’ina Elnena,’ I was pretty blown away by that,” said Fredericks, who owns a strategic consulting firm called Salt.

The cultural affirmation, in massive letters on the museum’s facade, prompted Fredericks to become a museum member for the first time, and to begin bringing her son there. Now she chairs the museum’s governing board.

Fredericks said that she’s excited by the new admission policy. When she was growing up, she said that her Yup’ik identity made her feel “othered,” even in her own hometown. She didn’t feel that the museum was meant for her.

“By giving Indigenous people free admission, it’s not just about saying, ‘Hey, we’re eliminating the financial barrier to this place,'” Fredericks said. “It’s saying, 'This is your place. You come in and make this your place even more.'”

The free admission applies just for general entry. Alaska Native visitors will still have to pay for special events, workshops, and classes.

Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media