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News Release

Sealaska Heritage Institute

Sealaska Heritage Institute’s (SHI) Board of Trustees has moved to support a ballot initiative that would create an equal government-to-government relationship with the State of Alaska by officially recognizing Alaska tribes in the law.

The initiative does not propose any legal changes to the status of tribes. Tribes have already been recognized by the federal government, the Alaska Supreme Court and the Attorney General of Alaska.

But, formal recognition of tribes would allow for a shift toward respect, cooperation and strategic alliances in funding for education, healthcare and public safety.

Such recognition is long overdue, said Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl.

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“Alaska Native people have lived on this land for more than 10,000 years. We were here when the Russians came. We were here when the Americans colonized our land. We were here when Alaska became a state. We are simply asking the voters of Alaska to formally recognize our existence in state law,” Worl said.

Alaska has more federally recognized tribes than any other state in the nation. Alaskan tribes account for 40 percent of all tribes in the country and bring in millions of federal and private dollars into the state because of their status as tribes. 

Sealaska Heritage Institute trustees took the extraordinary action to support this initiative because they believe the time has come for our governments to work together for the benefit of all Alaskans, Worl said.

“We only have to look to how tribes and Alaska Native health organizations utilized their assets and resources during the pandemic to leverage and assist the government and non-Native entities in a time of national crisis,” Worl said.

Organizers of the initiative are currently collecting signatures to put the question on the ballot. Sealaska Heritage Institute sponsored a signing event this week at its building in Juneau.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. Sealaska Heritage Institute also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.