Effort to add to Alaska Flag Song is being led by Juneau fifth-graders
Most school kids in Alaska know the state song that starts with the lines “Eight stars of gold on a field of blue”
What about the verse that starts “A Native lad chose the Dipper’s stars”?
Those lines, along with the rest of a relatively unknown second verse of the Alaska Flag Song could officially become part of Alaska’s state song if a bill filed today is passed by the legislature.
The second verse celebrates the spirit of cooperation between cultures, the beauty of the land, and the “Native lad” who designed Alaska’s flag, a reference to the 13-year-old Alutiiq boy, Benny Benson whose design for the flag was chosen by the territorial legislature.
If the bill passes, it too will be inspired by the effort of some of Alaska’s youth.
According to the bill’s sponsor, Andi Story, D-Juneau, the idea came from rekindled by a group of school children at Glacier Valley Elementary School also know by its Tlingit name, Sít' Eetí Shaanáx.
The school’s music teacher there had been teaching the second verse for years, but this year’s students were inspired to take action to add official status to the song after she broached the topic.
“I couldn’t believe the response,” said Lorrie Heagy, music teacher at Glacier Valley, “So I said if you’re interested come see me at lunch and we’ll look up what it takes to get a bill passed, and they came! And you know how much lunch means to elementary school kids”
Since then the kids have been organizing phone calls, meetings, and signature gatherings around their community. Heagy says they’ve visited Tlingit Haida Community Council, played bingo with elders while collecting signatures, and had phone calls with Sealaska, the regional Native corporation. She said each meeting becomes a mini-civics lesson, each phone call a micro-victory.
“After they make a phone call they cheer, they’re like ‘yay!’” said Heagy.
And the kids are taking the creativity to the next level all on their own. As part of their advocacy, five of the students wrote a short rap (they call themselves "The Dippers") that they will perform in front of the legislature, hopefully sometime this session.
“It’s exciting to me when we see children involved in civics education,” said Story.
Still, there’s no guarantee that the bill will get passed. In 2010, the bill to add the second verse failed to make it to the house floor, according to the
for the third time. Among the skeptics then was Bryce Edgmon, now the Speaker of the House, who cited opposition to the song not because of its content, but because what he considered the uneven meter of the verse.
Story said that the students had a comeback for those legislators who had previously struggled to sing the new verse: if we fifth graders can do it, then so can you. In any case, Heagy says, the verse paints a fuller picture of Alaska that isn't shown in the first verse.
The young advocates are also putting effort into gathering wide support. Heagy says that before Story agreed to take up the bill, the representative insisted that the students gather support from around the community, particularly with Alaska Natives, who are featured prominently in the new verse. So far, Heagy says that the process is going well with the community visits, but there is still a lot of work to go.
In any case, she says, legislators will have some hard lobbyists coming at them this session.
"The legislators will definitely be hearing more from students," said Story.