Yesterday marked a statewide holiday throughout Alaska, one that is observed on the fourth Monday of each March.
Each year, the state of Alaska observes Seward’s Day on behalf of William H. Seward, Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state and individual who orchestrated the purchase of the Alaska territory from Russia. At the time, the move was ridiculed as “Seward’s Folly” and the Alaska territory as “Seward’s Icebox”. But for approximately $7.2 million dollars, the United States now had millions of dollars worth of gold, fur, and (in 1968) the discovery of offshore oil in Prudhoe Bay.
The holiday in honor of a man responsible for the further loss of Indigenous land is a difficult issue, and contributes to the legacy of historical trauma. According to William L. Iggiagruk Hensley, the purchase of Alaska was steeped in the concept of “Manifest Destiny” an expansion of the American empire. Additionally, Seward viewed the vast natural resources in Alaska as a valuable asset to the United States. Many historical accounts credit Seward for ending Russian occupation and enslavement of Natives during the fur trade. Yet Seward’s expansionism was made plain in 1848, in that “our
population is destined to roll its resistless waves to the icy barriers of the north, and to encounter oriental civilization on the shores of the Pacific.”
Yet as one of two Alaska-centric holidays throughout the year (Alaska Day being the other one), Seward’s Day is a time to reflect on the state’s history- and, for many government employees, to take a paid holiday.