Sitka’s Russian Heritage
As you travel through the streets of Sitka, you will notice the Russian influence as it traveled to the shores of North America many years ago. This was the Russian capital of Alaska in 1808 and the Cathedral of St Michaels, a Russian Orthodox church, was built there in 1848. It was rebuilt after a fire in 1966 but many of the religious relics were saved and can be seen, including gold crowns, chalices, books, and vestments.
Sitka was the site of the ceremony where the Russian flag was lowered and the US flag was raised after US purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. That purchase was called Seward’s Folly and was criticized at the time. At the price of two cents an acre, this acquisition turned out to be extremely rich in many natural resources including gas and oil. The flag changing ceremony is still held each year in Sitka on October 18, Alaska Day.
The Alaska Raptor Center is home for many injured bald eagles. It is an education center that promotes understanding of the bald eagle as well as protecting the injured ones until they are ready for release back to the wild. Today they also had a large owl sitting in their office. Good Morning America had filmed a segment here regarding the injured raptors shortly before our visit.
Totem carvers were at work carefully putting finishing touches on their creations at Sitka National Historical Park, Alaska’s oldest national park. Native Tlingit Haida Indian Tribes’ carvings began in the 1800s mainly as interior houseposts. Imagine these natives carving beautiful pieces of history on a cold winter’s day. Many of the poles here are replicas of totems that were first exhibited in the 1904 St Louis World’s Fair. Some of the originals have been saved from deterioration and are exhibited in Totem Hall at the park cener.
Russian Folk Dances performed by the New Archangel Dancers were another highlight of the visit. Their mission is to promote the Russian heritage through sharing ethnic song and dance in traditional costume. They have performed since the eighteenth century and are an all female dance troop performing both male and female roles. In the early days, Sitka men didn’t find it appropriate to engage in dancing. Not a manly activity! The audience thoroughly enjoy their performance.
After strolling through the streets of Sitka, it is time to head back to the ship. Smaller local boats called tenders take passengers back to the cruise ship, which isn’t able to get close to shore at this point. Along with souvenirs, many happy memories are carried aboard.