Opinion

OPINION: Sealaska affirms: Being Native is more than a blood percentage

Celebration 2022

On behalf of the Sealaska Heritage Institute Board of Trustees and staff who I know share my sentiment, I want to express my congratulations and deepest thanks to Sealaska for its leadership in advancing a lineal descendant resolution that was approved by shareholders in this year’s corporate election.

The resolution eliminates the previous requirement for descendants of original shareholders to provide proof of their Alaska Native blood quantum to enroll with Sealaska. The decision will extend shareholder status to thousands of previously disenfranchised descendants.

I don’t know that people fully appreciate the significance of the vote. Allowing for the enrollment of lineal descendants into a profit-making corporation without them having to pay for the stock is monumental. It clearly demonstrates that a majority of our shareholders continues to embrace our cultural values and have not totally assimilated into the Western culture. The vote pitted Western individual rights versus tribal group rights.

The vote demonstrated adherence by a majority of our shareholders to an important cultural value — that our youth and future generations have the same right as the current generation to maintain ties to our aboriginal lands through Sealaska. This value is the foundational basis of our culture and traditional society.

Despite the 150 years of aggressive public policy and imposition of Western values that sought to eradicate our cultural values and to assimilate us into the Western society, our peoples voted to maintain our cultural values. It is a significant statement that I hope all can appreciate.

Congress believed that with land, money and corporations, Alaska Natives would be fully assimilated into the Western society. Our leaders saw the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, or ANCSA, in very different ways and had the foresight to amend ANCSA to allow for the enrollment of shareholder descendants and to promote other measures to retribalize Native corporations.

Sealaska Heritage is truly appreciative of the support we receive from Sealaska, which allows us to promote and enhance our culture.

Now to heal the wounds and divisiveness among some shareholders. Sealaska will have to generate more revenues for those shareholders who were distressed about the dilution of the value of their stock, dividends and vote. I am confident in the company’s trajectory even more so than before with this affirmation of our priorities.

Rosita Kaaháni Worl is president of the Sealaska Heritage Institute, a Juneau-based nonprofit organization that preserves and advances the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Native cultures of Southeast Alaska, and has held that position since 1997.