State Maritime Heritage Projects Get Funds

By Teigan Akagi

Alaska Beacon

With more coastline than all of the other states combined, Alaska has quite the maritime history. And for historians and museum leaders, it’s a challenge to preserve that history. A new federally funded grant program may make their jobs easier, by funding efforts to both preserve artifacts and educate the public.

As of today, the Alaska Maritime Heritage Preservation Program is open to applicants for $327,500 aimed at helping retain and support maritime preservation and education projects. That’s the amount the National Park Service awarded to Alaska’s state government to distribute in grants to local programs.

The application period closes Oct. 31.

With its 47,300 miles of coastline, the state of Alaska has an intricate relationship with the maritime world, making it a strong candidate for the national grant, according to Katie Ringsmuth, who serves as both the Alaska state historian and deputy state historic preservation officer.

“We really are the maritime north. We’re not just a state coastline. We connect the circumpolar north and the Pacific world. We have the power to tell that story for the rest of the country,” Ringsmuth said. “That would be why I think we made a good argument. The rest of the country needs us in helping them establish that history, that really important history.” 

The State Historic Preservation Office formed a partnership with Alaska State Library, Archives and Museums, which allowed the state to increase the funding from the national grant. According to Ringsmuth, there are two grants to which those interested can apply: one focused on Alaska maritime heritage education and the other on Alaska maritime heritage preservation. 

The education grant provides money to those who will share information with the public about maritime history or skills, whether that be through participatory programs, improving maritime exhibit spaces, teaching traditional maritime skills or other techniques. 

On the other hand, the historic preservation grant gives money to projects that are documenting archeological history, research, the repair and rehabilitation of important maritime resources, and more.

The grants will provide money to Alaska-residing nonprofits, individuals, academic institutions, tribes, and others. 

The Sitka Maritime Heritage Society’s Japonski Island Marine Ways is pictured in 2022. (Sentinel Photo)



Museums around the state are considering applying for the funding.

“It’s a great program–one of the few funding programs aimed specifically at preserving maritime history,” said Toby Sullivan, executive director of the Kodiak Maritime Museum.

He noted that Alaska’s long coastline makes it stand out when compared with other states.

“There’s a lot of history associated with that coastline and the oceans offshore from it, from the journeys of the Indigenous people who arrived in Alaska by sea thousands of years ago, to the early European exploration of coastal Alaska, to the modern fishing industry,” Sullivan said. “Preserving and understanding that history helps us to understand who we are in the present moment and gives us the perspective to see our possible place in the world of the future.” 

The Kodiak Maritime Museum is just one of the many potential applicants for the program. The museum records oral histories, conducts historical research, surveys historically important waterfront sites and does other things to preserve maritime history, Sullivan said. 

When it comes to what the museum plans on citing for its grant applications, Sullivan said that the museum has two projects in mind. 

“First, finding a permanent building for the museum, which is the museum’s primary strategic goal, and helping to fund any refurbishment necessary to house the museum in that building. The second funding choice is to do a systematic historic survey and inventory of maritime history sites on Kodiak‘s waterfront,” Sullivan said. 

Another potential applicant is the Sitka Maritime Heritage Society. Society Executive Director Keith Nyitray said of the opportunity: “It’s amazing!”

He said there are many different pieces of history that need preservation.

“I think it’s a shame when historic knowledge is lost, and providing that opportunity for younger people to learn about the history and skills and keep them moving forward is really important,” Nyitray said. “And it’s not just about how to fish, but it’s how it was done and why it was done, and those skills transcend time, but those skills are being lost.”

SMHS has done much to preserve Alaska’s maritime history. From boat-building and knot-tying classes to pub talks where historical themes and events are discussed, it’s all done without the walls of a museum. In fact, one of the SMHS’s biggest goals is to restore a boathouse to serve as their museum’s home. 

“We’ve just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars into restoring this thing, we may apply for a fire suppression system, a sprinkler system, because what’s the sense in restoring it and then having it all burn down?” Nyitray said.

Ringsmuth said it’s a significant opportunity.

“This is a program that we really hope will help Alaskans preserve not just the places that really matter to them, but their traditions and their lifeways,” Ringsmuth said. “We’re kind of treating this as a pilot program, and success will help leverage future grants. So that is really the intent is to try to create a more sustainable program so that we can continue to support coastal communities and the comprehensive history of Alaska.” 

A webinar will be held on Sept. 21 with more information about the grant. For more information, concerning Alaska’s Maritime Heritage Preservation Grant or a link to the webinar, contact State Historian Katie Ringsmuth at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



Now Available: Tracking Sex Assault Kits Online

By Claire Stremple

Alaska Beacon

A new online tool will allow survivors to check the status of their sexual assault kits, Alaska’s Department of Public Safety announced last week. The department developed a tracker so survivors can stay up to date on their case in “the least intrusive and traumatic way possible.”

A sexual assault kit, known colloquially as a “rape kit,” contains materials a medical professional can use to collect DNA samples or other evidence after a crime. A rape kit can be a tool to convict perpetrators of sexual violence if survivors choose to report their assault.

Advocates like Jennifer Brown of Standing Together Against Rape Alaska say this is a step in the right direction — the online tool is part of a response to the backlog of thousands of unprocessed rape kits that the state finished working through this year.

“Already, when you are a victim of sexual assault, it feels like you’re voiceless,” Brown said. “This sort of puts back that voice and that power for victims of sexual assault where they can look and see that, yes, progress is happening with their sexual assault kits.”

In Alaska, a series of state and partner agencies are responsible for processing the kits and there are deadlines for how quickly they must act. The online tool promotes accountability, Brown said.

She said before the tool, survivors had to contact the detective working their case to get an update on their kit.

“It sometimes can be very difficult to reach law enforcement and now they can look online without having to leave messages and wonder if anybody cares,” Brown said.

Now, she said, it’s like tracking a package delivery. Survivors are given instructions on how to track their kit when the evidence is collected.

Brown acknowledged that not all survivors want a sexual assault kit, but she said they can still access care through Standing Together Against Rape and other groups in the state.

The state’s public safety department began introducing the program regionally in June and now it is fully operational statewide. Since June, the program has logged 48 kits in the tracking system and 33 survivors have accessed the online portal to check the status of their kits.

“After the State of Alaska completed the processing of our untested sexual assault kits from across the state, one of the recommendations from the working group was to enable this trauma informed tracking system for survivors,” said Alaska Department of Public Safety Commissioner James Cockrell in a press release.

His agency worked with nurses who are members of teams that respond to sexual assaults, the Alaska Scientific Crime Detection Lab, law enforcement across the state, prosecutors and survivors to develop the tracker.


This story was reported as part of a project funded by USC Annenberg School of Journalism’s 2023 Domestic Violence Impact Fund.


Tourist Shop Accused Of Selling Fake Native Items

By James Brooks

Alaska Beacon

A state judge has ordered a tourist shop outside Denali National Park to stop selling products labeled as “made in Alaska” after the state of Alaska accused the shop of repeatedly selling fake souvenirs and art.

According to a complaint filed by the Alaska Department of Law on Thursday in Fairbanks, the owners of a shop known variously as The Himalayan and Mt. McKinley Clothing Company repeatedly attempted to mislabel foreign products as Alaska-made.

At one point, the owners of the store told an undercover investigator “that an alpaca poncho depicting a Native American chief in a feather headdress reflected Alaska’s traditions.”

According to the complaint, “the defendants made the false claims that the store was a nonprofit that was owned by the Yakutat Village Council, that they were volunteering at the store, that the alpaca products were made from Yakutat alpacas, that products in the store were made by Alaska Natives in Yakutat, and that proceeds were returned to the Village Council to be used for charitable purposes such as building schools and building a rehabilitation center.”

Alaska has no native alpacas, and the Yakutat Village Council does not exist.

In response to the complaint, Superior Court Judge Patricia Haines issued a restraining order and preliminary injunction against The Himalayan and its owners on Monday.

The order requires that the store not sell products labeled as made in Alaska or made by an Alaska Native unless those products are approved by the state.

As the state’s tourism industry rebounds after the COVID-19 pandemic emergency, state and federal officials have been cracking down on fake Alaska Native art.

This spring, federal investigators prosecuted the owners of a Ketchikan store selling fake Native art, and at the start of this year’s tourist season, the Department of Law sent a warning letter to almost four dozen tourist shops statewide, warning them to not remove country-of-origin labels from imported souvenirs.

Passing off a foreign-made souvenir as Alaska-made is a violation of state law, and if a store falsely claims that an item was made by an Alaska Native or a member of a Native tribe, it may be a federal crime as well.

In a written statement about the restraining order, Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor said, “My office will not tolerate false claims that products were made by Alaska Natives or that proceeds from sales will be used for charitable purposes. We will not allow businesses that lie to consumers to gain an unfair competitive advantage over the many excellent stores that sell legitimate Alaska-made or Alaska Native products.”



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At a Glance

(updated 9-12-2023)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 8:57 a.m. Tuesday, September 12.

New cases as of Tuesday: 278

Total cases (cumulative) statewide – 301,513

Total (cumulative) deaths – 1,485

Case Rate per 100,000 – 38.14

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

COVID in Sitka

The Sitka community level is now "Low.'' Case statistics are as of Tuesday.

Case Rate/100,000 – 152.50

Cases in last 7 days – 13

Cumulative Sitka cases – 3,575

Deceased (cumulative) – 10

The local case data are from Alaska DHSS.






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Sitka’s new city engineer, Dan Jones, 51, says his nearly 30 years in the field has given him qualifications for all aspects of his new post. ... He replaces Milt Ludington, who has moved to a different position in the city public works department.



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One of the most active organizations around town this fall has been the Sitka High Drill Team, the Wolverettes. A spaghetti feed Saturday is the latest project.


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