A group of Juneau elementary students are leading an effort to add a second verse to the state song, “Alaska’s Flag.”
The effort began when Lorrie Heagy, a music teacher at Glacier Valley Sít’ Eetí Shaanáx Elementary School, taught the song to her students on Alaska Day in October. Students learned the well-known first verse, but also the lesser-known second verse which references Benny Benson, the 13-year-old Aleut who designed the state flag.
“A Native boy chose the stars of our Ursa for the flag of Alaska so there would be no bars in our cultures,” begins the second verse, written by Carol Beery Davis in 1987.
“As a music teacher, I taught both verses of the Alaskan Flag Song to my fourth and fifth graders in Glacier Valley,” Heagy said in an email. “I shared with them that I don’t have to teach the second verse because that verse is unofficial. I chose to teach it because unlike the first verse, the second verse recognizes the native people of this land, Benny Benson, an Alaskan native who designed the Alaska flag at age 13 years and “all light and bright cultures”.
This led some of his students to ask why the second verse wasn’t officially part of the song and how they could change that.
This led to a bit of Google and Heagy research, along with four college students who volunteered to help, Elijiah Wyatt, Hunter Carte, Rylan Henderson and Aiden Jenkins, contacted local lawmaker Rep. Andi Story, D- Juneau.
The students then worked with Story to learn about the process of drafting a bill and what it takes to get a law passed.
Some of Heagy’s students even testified at a Juneau School Board meeting and a House Community and Regional Affairs meeting about the importance of the second verse.
“That part of the song isn’t just honoring the settlers or the Alaska Natives. It’s honoring everyone,” Sahara Shoemake, a fourth-grader, told the school board. “It’s like a little Alaskan welcome for people coming in. It’s like hey, we’ll honor you, we’ll respect you, we’ll support you.
Judah Marr, a fourth-grade student, who is Tsimshian, agreed in his testimony.
“I strongly believe that the second verse of the Alaska flag song should be made official because the first line that reads, ‘Native boy chose the Dipper star for the Alaskan flag’ recognizes Benny Benson who drew the Alaskan flag design,” Marr mentioned. “The second verse also recognizes the native peoples of Alaska, who were the original inhabitants of this land. I urge you all to vote yes on HB 193. Gunalchésh, T’oyaxsit ‘nüüsm, Ha’wáa.
Story’s bill would not require the song to be sung on any occasion, it would simply enshrine the verse in state law as an official part of the state song.
“It doesn’t tell anyone you have to sing the verse,” Story said. “I don’t see that as a problem. I think we’ll see a lot of people wanting to sing the song.
This is not the first time the second verse has been introduced in the Legislative Assembly. In 2010, The New York Times reported that one lawmaker unsure of the second verse was current House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham.
Support for the song grew among Heagy students and the community.
Heagy students started a group called the Dippers to support the second verse, who have a website with performances of the state song with both verses and a rap urging people to support the bill.
According to Heagy, organizations that have written letters of support for the bill include the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Sealaska Heritage Institute, Alaska Federation of Natives, Juneau School District, and Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp 2. .
Faith Contreras, 10, who is Tlingit, said she wanted to see the verse added because it honored Alaska Natives.
“It includes Alaskan Native culture and all cultures and talks about the creator of the Alaska flag,” she said. “Being an Alaskan native makes me even prouder.”
• Contact journalist Peter Segall at 523-2228 or [email protected]