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Meghan Sullivan
Indian Country Today

"There are as many ways to be Indigenous as there are Native people in the state, and because our communities are in such a state of flux and have changed so quickly over just a few short generations, we are all still figuring it out,” writes Cordelia Qiġñaaq Kellie, Inupiaq. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was one of those recent changes. As with any other topic, there are countless different ways that individual Indigenous Alaskans and the 200 + communities they belong to view ANCSA and navigate the dynamics it created.

Leading up to the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act on Dec. 17, Indian Country Today will be highlighting a wide range of these experiences, including insights from the elders who fought for the land, perspectives from current leaders today, and future goals from younger generations.

Shawaan Jackson-Gamble

Shawaan Jackson-Gamble, Lingit and Xaadaas, grew up in the communities of Keex Kwaan (Kake, AK) and Sheetka Kwaan (Sitka, AK). His Lingit name is Ch’aak’ti which means, Watchman of Hamilton Bay. Jackson-Gamble is Tsaagweidi (Killer whale) clan. Growing up, his family taught him to live off the lands and waters. They always emphasized the importance of symbiotic relationships --  respecting everything, sharing with everyone, and being one with the environment. This past year, he graduated with honors from Northwest Indian College and got his bachelors in Native Environmental Science. His capstone research project was creating an ARCGIS Storymap of Keex Kwaans Traditional Place names. The research was given to his tribal archives for the next generations to utilize. Jackson-Gamble is currently one of the Indigenous Stewardship Fellows for First Alaskans Institute, where he works alongside the Alaska Native Policy Center to ensure the protection of traditional ways of life. He is a shareholder in Shee Atika Village Corporation and Kake Tribal Village Corporation, (and will eventually apply for his Sealaska Corporation descendant shares). 

What motivated you to pursue this line of work?

What motivated me to pursue this line of work and advocacy was when I became the 2019 Emerging Leader for the Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and I got exposure to how tribal governments operate, helped establish the Tlingit & Haida Youth Commission through drafting a resolution that I drafted, understand how meetings operate, drafted several resolutions and helped me find my voice as a young leader by advocating at the tribal, state and federal level. I always knew when I was going to college that I was going to come back home to help advocate for our lands, waters, and animal relatives to be protected for the next generations. What truly was my biggest motivation is the next generations, because they are the ones that are going to pass down our culture. It truly does feel good to work to protect our traditional ways of life because that is what I went to school for but also because I grew up learning how to live off our lands and waters and I want to ensure that the next generations have the same access to what we have now.

What do you see as the biggest challenge for the Alaska Native community to tackle in the next 50 years?

Right now, I think the biggest challenge that we face as Alaska Native communities that we need to tackle in the next 50 years is creating co-management programs for our Native lands and waters and resources. We are the original stewards of our lands, waters and resources and have stories about the creation of our earth, great floods and the ice age that we survived. We know our lands and waters better than anyone else and our traditional knowledge is more valid than any degree out there. If we had the opportunity to co-manage our lands and waters through ANCSA corporations and tribes, it would let us manage our resources how we want to, rather than be told how to live our way of life. A goal I have for the Alaska Native community is to bring awareness that we need to step away from harmful development like mining, logging, drilling, and putting in roads that Native communities don’t want like the Kake access road. There are better alternatives like mariculture (Kelp and seaweed farming, oyster/clam farming, restoration work of our lands and waters, sustainable tourism that gives back to our communities, sustainable commercial fishing. It all starts with making sure that the first peoples of the areas have a voice in the decision-making process when it comes to our lands and waters and start to massage those lands and waters through restoration work.

In your opinion, what are some solutions that the community can work towards to achieve these goals?

I think some of the solutions that the Alaska Native community can do to work to achieve these goals is to always work together regardless of the situation, because ultimately every decision that we make now will affect the next generations and if when we disagree with each other someone else is winning (The government). I think another solution is start by creating a database that can be used to make traditional knowledge in a careful way into data that can be presented at meetings that have to do with management of our lands, waters and animal relatives like the Federal Subsistence Board, Alaska Board of Fish/ Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Under ANILCA Title VIII it mandates that rural residents of Alaska be given a priority for subsistence uses of fish and wildlife. We need to have more say on the management of our resources on ANCSA lands and create our own form of officers that patrol our lands and waters through programs like the Guardians program in Southeast Alaska and the Watchmen’s Program in Haida Gwaii. I hope by the time my time comes that I help amend ANCSA and ANILCA so that it can be like the State of Washington’s Boldt Decision, where Natives get access to half of the commercial fishery. I don’t see why we can’t amend the laws to be in that structure, because ANILCA and Boldt Decision are very similar in my eyes.

What is one initiative related to Alaska Native Corporations and/or Alaska Native tribes that you view as a success?

Something I see as a success regarding Alaska Native tribes and corporations is the willingness to always put our people first because when you get elected you are there to represent the people who voted you in to speak up for them on the issues that deal with your community. Something also that I see as a success is that when there are Alaska Native issues our leaders and people always stand up and advocate hard for those issues whether it be Tribal, State or Federal Issues. Native people are always in the front lines for those issues. Our next generations is in good hands because we have a lot of the younger generation that are leaving our communities to get their educations and certifications and bring back what they learned back to our communities.

Is there anything you would like to see Alaska Native Corporations focus on more in the next few decades?

I think something that needs to be addressed is full access to hunting and fishing for all Alaska Native people whether it be urban or rural areas, can hunt and fish anytime that we need to because that is our right as Alaska Native people. I think that in order for that to happen there would have to be an amendment in the Marine Mammal Protection Act for more people to hunt seals, sea otters, sea lions and walrus’s. There would also have to be an amendment of ANCSA and ANILCA to help make sure that both rural and urban Alaska Natives can have access to our lands and waters to practice our traditional ways of life.

What is one of your favorite Alaska Native community / cultural memories?

I think one of my favorite cultural memories that I’ve experienced was growing up helping my family with our Koo.eex’s or potlach’s. This past one we had I was gifted my great grandfather Tommy Jackson’s vest and I couldn’t help but break down in happy tears because it was such a powerful moment for me. When I wear it, I can feel the strength that comes with the vest, I often pray to him and other family members that have passed on for strength when I need it most.

What is the most important lesson you learned from older generations?

I think the most important lesson that I learned is that make sure you when have a successful fishing or hunting trip that you make sure that you share with others. There is no better feeling than seeing how people are when you gift them whatever you harvest or gather. I always think that it truly isn’t subsistence foods if you don’t share with those you care most about and I will teach what I know about living off the lands and waters to my future kids and grandchildren.

What is a piece of advice you have for younger generations?

Some advice that I have for younger generations is to always take advantage of every opportunity that you can take that will give you experience in advocating for your people. There is a lot of learning opportunities through various internships and fellowships. Also, to always ask questions because those are the spaces that it is okay to ask thousands of questions because that’s what I did and it helped me learn a lot of things whether it was working in the Alaska State Legislature in Rep. Ortiz’s Office, doing stream restoration, inventory of my homelands, working in a lab or helping with various research projects in the natural resources field I always asked questions every chance I got. My last advice is to go out and explore what our world has to offer, our communities will always be waiting for you so go out and learn what you can and bring it back to our people because we need you.

What is one word that comes to mind when you think of ANCSA?

Corporation.

What is something you think people should know about you, your community, or your work, that people might not be aware of?

After I am doing with my Indigenous stewardship fellowship I plan to get my masters focusing on traditional methods of stream restoration and bring back our traditional fish traps so that our people can go back to doing what we have done for thousands of years. I also want to continue to learn more about the regulations and laws that affect our lands, waters and resources so that one day I can help be a part of the management process so that our next generations can be the decision makers of what happens to our lands, waters and resources just like our ancestors have done for us.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Learn the process, so that we can beat them (the government) with their own process. Continue to keep making your communities and ancestors proud.

Peace, Love and Seal Grease (:

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This story is part of Indian Country Today’s series on the 50th anniversary of the landmark Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Funding for ICT’s ANCSA project is provided in part by the Alaska Center for Excellence in Journalism. Stay updated on ICT’s ANCSA project using #ANCSA50 and at https://indiancountrytoday.com/tag/ancsa-50.

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