By Melinda Munson

The Skagway Borough Assembly voted Aug. 17 to postpone a vote on Resolution 23-30R, proposed by Assemblymember Sam Bass, until a title to Garden City RV Park and the archeological assessment is presented at the next meeting. 

The resolution would “reserve and make available one parcel for use as a memorial site to acknowledge and commemorate the existence and operation of the Pius X Mission Residential Boarding School, dispose of four parcels to the public by lottery for high-density housing and dispose of remaining parcels to the public by lottery “with no requirement for development.”  

The Skagway Traditional Council (STC) did not comment on the resolution. The government was recently invited to an assembly of the whole to discuss plans for Garden City, but decided not to participate.

A July 27 letter from STC states: “…given the lack of meaningful progress on the issue, drain on tribal resources, missing historical records, cost of pursuing legal options and the enormous emotional toll that this has taken on tribal members and boarding school survivors, we would like to take a step back and withdraw our engagement with the MOS for an assembly of the whole meeting.”

The Pius X Mission Boarding School for Indian Children operated on the site of Garden City RV Park  from 1932 to 1959. In a letter dated Aug. 21, 2019 from the Diocese of Juneau, Francis A. Cowgill, who served at Pius X from 1952-1959 as assistant priest, was among a list of men “who have been determined by the diocese’ independent commission to have credible evidence of sexual misconduct involving minors and vulnerable adults.”

“I think it’s important to remember that although there may be some positive history (at the school), there’s also some negative experiences and negative history, and it’s documented … There are documented cases of abuse and atrocities and that’s difficult to argue with,” STC President Jaime Bricker stated in February 2022.

The land (Blocks 95 and 102) was purchased by the municipality from the Juneau Archdiocese in 2013 for $1.7 million. Bricker has questioned if the land should have gone to STC.

The Tribe officially asked for a portion of land to use to commemorate the school. A resolution by former Assemblymember Reba Hylton, that was never approved, proposed that half the land be repatriated to STC.

Near the close of Charity Pomeroy’s Aug. 17 Citizens Present testimony that half of Garden City should be returned to STC, Mavis Hendrickson stood up in the audience and started shouting, “We paid for it!” 

Under Mayor Andrew Cremata’s direction, Hendrickson was escorted by police from chambers. After a five-minute recess she was invited back in but declined. 

Assemblymember Orion Hanson noted during discussion that, “We continue to pay over $100,000 a year to the Catholic Church.” 

“I still welcome a discussion with STC that’s not going to veer into what are indigenous rights versus municipal land. I’ve said that numerous times and I don’t know how that’s gotten so sidetracked,” he said.

Orion stated that the issue should be placed for a public vote.

Assemblymember Deb Potter voiced her strong opinion. 

“I personally, I’m just not going to accept anything less than giving a minimum of six, not giving. Sorry – let me take that back,” she said. “I want to be very clear with my words. Returning a minimum of six slots to the Tribe who has experienced so much emotional and physical trauma, they can no longer attend these meetings to talk about it.”

Bass said he tried to take into account the STC’s July 27 letter while drafting the resolution.

“I realize there are many details that must be determined: timeline, street layout, support infrastructure, budget allocations, numerous ordinances … These all must be completed,” he said. “So there’s still a lot of work to do. But you can’t get to the finish line if you can’t get to the starting line. And that’s what this resolution is, this is the starting line.”

Bass’ resolution calls for the two blocks to be divided into a total of 24, 5,000 square foot parcels.