Alaska's flag song would be even richer with addition of verse

Posted: Friday, February 07, 2003

Tampering with tradition? Or celebrating the state's pride in its diverse cultures?

It depends on which state legislator you ask about the proposed addition of a second verse to the state song, "Alaska's Flag."

Our view: Now and then it's a good thing to tamper with tradition, and this is one of those times.

As Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, sponsor of House Bill 45, said: "We do things as legislators for symbolic as well as substantive reasons, and this is an important symbolic step we take today."

The majority of the House agreed, voting 29 to 7 Wednesday to pass the measure which would add a verse honoring Alaska Natives to the state song. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Adding the verse was one of the recommendations of a 2001 Commission on Tolerance, which was appointed in response to racially motivated paintball attacks on Alaska Natives. On its own, the verse does nothing to improve relationships among Alaska's different cultures. But it does go a long way in recognizing and raising awareness of the state's diversity in general and Native contributions in particular.

The House action earlier this week also provides a good opportunity for a quick Alaska history lesson: "Alaska's Flag'' was written by Marie Drake, a longtime employee of the Alaska Department of Education. The words first appeared as a poem in 1935. The poem later was set to music composed by Elinor Dusenbury. The territorial Legislature adopted "Alaska's Flag" as the official Alaska song in 1955.

Our bet is most Alaskans probably don't know the words to the first verse of the song, much less the proposed second verse, which was written by Carol Beery Davis and gifted to the University of Alaska Foundation in 1987. So, here they are:

"Alaska's Flag"

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.

Following are the lyrics of the proposed second verse of ''Alaska's Flag'':

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.

And just in case you haven't heard the story of how Alaska's flag came to be: The design for the flag was selected in a contest for Alaska students in grades 7 through 12 in 1926. The winning design was submitted by 13-year-old Benny Benson and consisted of eight gold stars on a blue background. Legislators adopted the design as the official flag for the Territory of Alaska on May 2, 1927. Drafters of the Alaska Constitution stipulated that the territorial flag become the official state flag.

Below his flag design, Benny wrote: "The blue field is for the Alaska sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaska flower. The North Star is for the future state of Alaska, the most northerly of the Union. The dipper is for the Great Bear -- symbolizing strength."

There is a Kenai Peninsula connection to all of this. Benny lived at the Jesse Lee Home in Seward at the time he designed what would become Alaska's flag. His mother was of Aleut-Russian descent and died when Benny was 4; his father was a Swedish fisher who came to Alaska in 1904.

Benny's life and the story of Alaska's flag serve not only to unite Alaskans, but are a powerful reminder that one young person really can make a difference. The proposed second verse to the state song gives voice to those realities.

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