March 12, 2010

Adding a Native verse to Alaska's song

Senate OKs adding Native reference to state songAlaska could soon be singing a new tune.

The state Senate, on an 18-2 vote, approved a measure Wednesday that would add a second verse with references to Alaska Natives and a message of unity to the official state song.

The measure now goes to the House.

This is at least the third time efforts have been made to add the verse, which is already widely known, taught and sung as part of the song. It references Benny Benson, the Native boy who in 1927 designed the territorial flag that eventually became the state flag.

Those voting against it were Republican Sens. Con Bunde of Anchorage and Charlie Huggins of Wasilla.
Comment:  The anti-Native vote of Wasilla's Charlie Huggins is consistent with the anti-Native positions of Sarah Palin, Wasilla's favorite daughter.

The song's lyrics:

Alaska's Flag & SongAlaska's State song was written by Marie Drake (an employee of the Alaska Department of Education) and first appeared as a poem in 1925.

Set to music by Elinor Dusenbury, whose husband was commander of Chilkoot Barracks at Haines from 1933 to 1936.

Adopted by the Territorial Legislature in 1955.

Eight stars of gold on a field of blue
Alaska's flag may it mean to you,
the blue of the sea, the evening sky,
the mountain lakes, and the flow'rs nearby,
the gold of the early sourdough's dreams,
the precious gold of the hills and streams,
the brilliant stars in the northern sky,
the "Bear"--the "Dipper"--and, shining high,
the great North Star with its steady light,
over land and sea a beacon bright,
Alaska's flag--to Alaskans dear,
the simple flag of a last frontier.

Here is a proposed second verse that the 2002 State Legislature considered adding. As far as we know, it has not happened.

A Native lad chose the Dipper's stars
For Alaska's flag that there be no bars
Among our cultures. Be it known
Through years the Natives' past has grown
To share life's treasures, hand in hand,
To keep Alaska our Great Land;
We love the northern, midnight sky,
The mountains, lakes, and streams nearby.
The great North Star with its steady light
Will guide all cultures, clear and bright,
With nature's flag to Alaskans dear,
The simple flag of the last frontier.
I was going to say it sounded a little weird to sing about the state's flag designer in the state song. But this seems like good songwriting to me. Using the flag as a symbol or metaphor, and generalizing from the particular to the general. It's an example of what writer instructors always say: Use concrete details to make a subject come alive.

The second verse seems to follow naturally from the first verse. If you're prejudiced against Alaska Natives, you could tell yourself the word "Natives" refers to native Alaskans rather than Alaska Natives. So why has the legislature failed to incorporate the second verse three times? I guess racism runs deep in the state.

For more on Native lyrics, see Natives Sing It Their Way.

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