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Bi-Partisan Bill Would Honor Tlingit Elder, Create Walter Soboleff Day

Minister, storyteller, scholar, businessman had profound impact in Alaska

Today, legislators from Southeast Alaska introduced bi-partisan legislation (HB217) to set aside November 14 of each year to honor the life and work of Dr. Walter A Soboleff, a revered Tlingit elder who passed away in 2011 at the age of 102. Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka), Representative Peggy Wilson (R-Wrangell), Representative Cathy Muñoz (R-Juneau), and Representative Beth Kerttula (D-Juneau) are co-prime sponsors of the legislation.

“Dr. Walter Soboleff was a man of spiritual wisdom, profound humility, and deep cultural knowledge. I'm pleased to be part of an effort to acknowledge his tremendous and timeless legacy,” said Kreiss-Tomkins.

A member of the Yéil (Raven) moiety,  L’eeneidí (Dog Salmon) clan, Dr. Soboleff was a translator and scholar of Tlingit language and storytelling, and was the first Native Alaskan to be ordained as a Presbyterian minister. A trustee of the Sealaska Heritage Institute since 1985, he served as its chair from 1988 until May of 2011, when he “walked into the woods” at the age of 102. Dr. Soboleff also served as President of Kootznoowoo, Inc, a director of Sealaska Corporation, and Grand Camp President of the Alaska Native Brotherhood. He was the first Alaska Native to serve on the State Board of Education, where he served as chairman.

Dr. Soboleff was known to speak of “Tlingit Protocols.” Among them, he prized the Tlingit value of Haa Shagóon—honoring the past and preparing the future for generations to come.

"We should never forget one of Alaska's beloved Tlingit elders, Walter Soboleff. He made great strides for the educational advancement of Alaska Natives. He will be remembered in the hearts of many,” said Wilson.

“Dr. Walter Soboleff was a man we all loved and admired as a spiritual leader and as a teacher,” said Muñoz. “He led by example. His words, deeds, and his very presence were imbued with grace. Soon, there will be a cultural center in Juneau to honor this remarkable man. We hope there may be a day set aside as well to commemorate this great man.”

“Dr. Soboleff was a leader, a very moral and spiritual man, but he also had a great sense of humor. I will always remember his laugh and am proud to be part of the effort to have a special day to remember him and what he stood for,” said Kerttula.

The Sealaska Heritage Institute broke ground on the Walter Soboleff Center in August 2013. The center, located in downtown Juneau, will be devoted to the study of Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures. The building will also house the Sealaska Heritage Institute, where Dr. Soboleff devoted so much of his life’s work. It is due to be completed by the end of 2014.

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