Until recently, an annual event at the Pioneer Bar in Sitka, Alaska, commemorating the state’s transfer from Russian control to the United States was known as the “slavery auction.” Going forward, the bar’s owner said Monday, it will be called the “Alaska Day Auction.”
On Sunday morning, the Anchorage chapter of the NAACP issued a press release condemning the name of the charity event due to take place that evening, the Alaska Dispatch News reported. “The connotation of buying and selling people against their will into slavery—that’s nothing to glorify,” chapter president Wanda Laws told the News. “I’d like them to change the name, I’m not asking them to cancel the event.”
Ledbetter said the event has been happening for almost 30 years and is held at the Pioneer Bar, the well-known Sitka watering hole where she works. People auction off two hours of their time to do yard work or other chores, she said.
The proceeds go to causes such as breast cancer charities and the event has raised as much as $7,000 in the past, Ledbetter said. This year, the money is slated to benefit the Sitka Fire Department. Between 150-200 people typically attend.
The bartender said she organizes it “on her own,” though the committee that puts together the Alaska Day Festival is aware of it.
As it turns out, the “slave auction” replaced another, earlier Alaska Day Festival fundraiser. “We had to get rid of the wet T-shirt contest,” Ledbetter said. “Because of the insurance. And it got wild.”
The chairman of the Alaska Day Festival, Ted Allio, told the AP that he thought the whole thing had been blown out of proportion. Russians, Allio said, had enslaved native people living in Sitka before the United States purchased Alaska in 1867. “You don’t hear them yelling” about the name, he said.
The general manager of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, Lawrence SpottedBird, disagreed. Allio “overstepped on his comments,” SpottedBird said. “There should be basically an apology for using that term.”