Southeast veterans will get their respect in the end after feeling disrespected when they noticed marble stones honoring them at the Sealaska Plaza were gone, George Bennett Sr. told representatives of Tlingit-Haida communities Friday in Juneau.
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The four white stones, carved with Native and English words for courage, had been removed to free up parking space.
About 30 proud warriors from the Southeast Veterans Association stood in front of the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall stage at the 71st annual Tlingit-Haida General Assembly as Bennett announced that the Native corporation has agreed to pay to put the markers in a new location. Bennett said he'd discussed the emotional issue that morning with state Sen. Albert Kookesh, who also serves on the Sealaska board.
Kookesh said Sealaska will do what is right, including moving the stones.
"If you want the grass to be green, we'll honor that, too," he said.
Kookesh, who lives in Angoon, said he didn't realize the monuments were moved from the corporation's downtown Juneau plaza until Bennett told him. Unceremoniously moving the stones into storage because the corporation needed parking was a mistake made by people making business decisions without regard to protocol, he said.
Sealaska already invested at least $8,000 to honor Southeast veterans by bringing the marble from the Calder Mine on Prince of Wales Island to Juneau.
The importance of the contributions of the veterans was never in question, he added. He noted, as did Bennett, that the percentage of Alaska Natives who have served their country in wars is higher than for any other ethnic group.
Thomas wins tribal assembly vote again
Delegates at the annual Tlingit-Haida General Assembly on Friday re-elected Edward Thomas as president of the Central Council, a position he has held since 1984.
Thomas received 61 votes. Dana Ruaro received 54. Both were elected as Assembly delegates from Juneau.
The Assembly took up resolutions Saturday, including one about the state of the Alaska Marine Highway. There is a perception that more emphasis is placed on ferries when tourists need them. Also at the Assembly, former Vice President Liv Gray, was named a lifetime member of the executive council.
Southeast Alaskans answer their country's call to duty, Bennett said. He wore ribbons from the Korean and Vietnam wars on his Tlingit vest, as well as his Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He saw combat as a radio operator for the Army's 25th Infantry Division in 1967 and 1968.
Some soldiers didn't come back, and some are in Iraq today, hoping to come back, Bennett said. That's one reason the monument at the Sealaska Plaza was important, he said.
"We have to hold them up. We have to be there for them," Bennett said.
Bennett said he first heard about removal of the stones about three months ago. The stones sat on what had been dedicated as sacred ground, he added.
The future location for the stones hasn't been determined.
"We want it to be more visible," Bennett said.