Walter Harper statue unveiled at Doyon Limited

Published: Jul. 22, 2022 at 6:03 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - On July 19, 2022, a statue of Walter Harper was unveiled at Doyon Limited to honor him and his legacy.

The statue comes as part of the ongoing work from the Walter Harper Project. Their first big triumph came when Sen. Click Bishop pushed for the creation of Walter Harper day which is now an official holiday in Alaska each June 7. Since then, the group has fundraised and partnered to create the statue that now stands at the Doyon Limited headquarters off of Church St. in Fairbanks.

At the unveiling, guests saw a presentation of speakers representing the Walter Harper Project, the Fairbanks Native Association, and Doyon Limited before the statue was uncovered. During this presentation Steve Ginnis, the executive director the Fairbanks Native Association, said that it was a “beautiful day for the interior Athabascan nation.” This remark came not only in relation to the statue of the Alaska Native pioneer, but also in reference to the newly expanded Chief Andrew Isaac medical facility in Fairbanks. Other speakers shared Ginnis’ sentiment, and the presentation closed with Bill Gordon from the Walter Harper Project handing over ownership of the statue to the president and chief executive officer of Doyon Limited, Aaron M. Schutt.

When it came to deciding on what type of art the project wanted, Gordon said that they “all agreed that [they] wanted a statue,” and not just any statue but one that “inspired and educated.”

For creation of the artwork, sculptor Gary Lee Price was hired. Price and his team went on to create two pieces: one of Harper standing on Denali, and another of his favorite dog Snowball.

One important part of the project for Price was making the statue interactive. He explained that to achieve this, his design included Harper’s statute “having that hand reaching out so that even kids can come up on the pedestal and interact with Walter.” In harmony with the artist’s desires, three Alaska Native children who attended the ceremony became the first people to ever interact with the statues, petting Snowball and holding Harper’s hand.

Looking forward to the future goals of the Walter Harper Project, Gordon said, “The project is very determined to continue our educational component. We wanted to inspire, [and] the statue is doing that. The panels surrounding the statue are educating people. But we want to make sure our schools have the materials they need to add this to their curriculums for Alaska history, and we want to make sure more indigenous people are recognized for the vast contributions they have made - and there are quite a few of them.”

Harper’s legacy as the first person to stand atop Denali, and the rest of his incredible life story, will be on display with the statue eventually. For now, guests can find out more about Harper at Doyon Limited’s headquarters.

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