Anchorage Museum Pauses Free Admission for Alaska Native People

The Anchorage Museum has paused a new policy that granted free admission to visitors who self-identified as Native Alaskan. The short-lived rule, announced January 3, proved controversial when some online claimed it was discriminatory.

While praised by the Native Village of Eklutna, which celebrated the new ticketing guidelines as “great news for Anchorage’s original inhabitants,” the policy prompted backlash in small right-wing publications. It also elicited a negative opinion article in the Anchorage Daily News, a centrist local paper, in which a local attorney argued that the policy violated the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal rights for American citizens.

Anchorage Museum spokesperson Hank Davis told Hyperallergic that the institution is “a community asset.”

“We want to make sure all policies involving access and availability are in line with the community’s expectations while following all legal guidelines,” Davis said. Janet Asaro, another spokesperson for the museum, told Alaska Public Media that no legal action had been taken against the institution. 

The Anchorage Museum frequently centers Native art in its shows, sells work by Native artists in its store, and displays a permanent large-scale land acknowledgment on its facade that reads “This is Dena’ina Ełnena (This is Dena’ina homeland).” It is also home to the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, which comprises the Living Our Cultures exhibition that features 600 Native Alaskan cultural heritage objects. Tickets cost $25 for adults and $20 for Alaska residents. 

“We remain deeply committed to the goals of honoring Indigenous people and improving access to their cultural belongings,” Davis stated. He added that in the coming weeks, the museum will convene its board of directors, partners, advisers, and experts and “study possibilities and how best to implement any changes that accomplish these goals.”

Few museums in the United States offer free admission to Native people, but a host of Canadian institutions, including the Royal Ontario Museum and the National Gallery of Canada, maintain the policy.

Hyperallergic has contacted the Alaska Federation of Natives and other local Native groups for comment. We will update this article as soon as we hear back from them.

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The land credit on the museum’s facade reads “This is Dena’ina Ełnena (This is Dena’ina homeland).”

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