Construction Begins on Walter Soboleff Center
Groundbreaking for the new Walter Soboleff Center was held Thursday, August 1, 2013 in Juneau, Alaska. The new facility will house offices for the nonprofit Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) staff while serving as a cultural center and research facility located in downtown Juneau.
Sealaska, the regional Native institution that originally founded the nonprofit in 1980 and that continues as SHI’s primary funder, purchased the lot in June 2010 for the purpose of donating it to the institute. “Sealaska’s purpose is to strengthen our people, culture and homelands,” said Board Chair Albert Kookesh. “It is fitting that the Walter Soboleff Center sits on land occupied for thousands of years by the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people. The center represents and shares our Native cultures with everyone who will visit. It is a reminder that we have been here for ten thousand years and through perpetuation of our culture, in collaboration with so many others who call this region home, we will be here for ten thousand more.”
Sealaska President and CEO Chris E. McNeil Jr. acknowledge the collaboration of many as the construction begins on the Walter Soboleff Center. “It is so fitting that the facility is named after Dr. Walter Soboleff, who was a passionate advocate for multiculturalism and an embodiment of Native values. Sealaska is thrilled to uphold his legacy through our donation of land to SHI,” said McNeil. “The center will change the nature of downtown Juneau. We can’t celebrate today without recognizing the Tlingit Elders who have worked with Sealaska and alongside Dr. Soboleff from Sealaska’s beginnings. Today’s groundbreaking ceremony is built upon those contributions and we thank you.”
The Center is named for Dr. Walter Soboleff, a Tlingit scholar, esteemed Elder and translator who specialized in traditional oratory and storytelling. Soboleff served as a Sealaska director for nine years, helping to foster the success of Sealaska that allows for such cultural program support, and served as the chair of the SHI board of trustees for many years. Dr. Soboleff passed away in 2011 at the age of 102.
Patrick Anderson serves as a Sealaska director as well as a SHI trustee. He says Sealaska has been supporting SHI since 1980. “The Walter Soboleff Center will be a place to document the history of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people,” said Anderson. “I was on the SHI board when Judson Brown donated his papers. Among those documents were the minutes from the Alaska Native Brotherhood convention in 1929. That was the year when ANB pursued a lands claim against the Tongass National Forest, which ended up leading to the formation of Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. The Walter Soboleff Center will support preserving our history and perpetuate the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people.”
Sealaska director Joe Nelson also serves as an SHI trustee. Nelson says he had the pleasure of serving with Dr. Soboleff for many years as a trustee and that Soboleff would often lament about the loss of our Native values. “I took that as a personal challenge,” said Nelson. “In Dr. Soboleff’s words, 'It is not only about financial profitability.’”
“He also reminded us that we need to have our hands firmly around our core cultural values that represent our collective identity as clans, tribes and villages. This is what makes us strong and wealthy as a people.”
To learn more about the Walter Soboleff Center please visit http://www.sealaskaheritagecenter.com/.
SHI has raised more than 75 percent of the $20,000,000 needed to build the center and will continue to raise funds during construction. You can contribute by visiting here.