Rosita Worl, president of Sealaska Heritage Institute, gives a presentation at the “Sharing Our Knowledge” on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, on blood quantum and how it relates to enrollment of shareholders in Native corporations. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Rosita Worl, president of Sealaska Heritage Institute, gives a presentation at the “Sharing Our Knowledge” on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, on blood quantum and how it relates to enrollment of shareholders in Native corporations. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Blood simple: Is it time to rethink how Native is defined?

Sealaska Heritage president questions use of blood quantum by corporations

In Rosita Worl’s estimation, the time is coming to ditch or at least retool the requirements that tie being an Alaska Native Corporation shareholder to a specific percentage of Native heritage.

The president for Sealaska Heritage Institute, a nonprofit for the preservation and perpetuation of Alaska Native culture and art, delivered a lecture Friday morning during the Sharing Our Knowledge Conference that focused on blood quantum and possible consequences of policies tied to a standard of 1/4 Alaska Native blood.

“Could this ultimately lead to our cultural extinction?” Worl asked. “In the long term, in my humble opinion, I would have to answer yes.”

She was specifically speaking of the current Sealaska Corporation shareholder eligibility requirements that state shareholder descendants born after 1971 must be 1/4 Native in order to become shareholders.

The 1/4 distinction isn’t an arbitrary figure nor is it an isolated standard.

It matches the definition of Native in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. ANCSA, which was enacted in 1971, established regional Alaska Native corporations, such as Sealaska Corp.

“That was the standard that was adopted when Sealaska shareholders voted to include descendants (in June 2007),” said Jaeleen Kookesh, vice president for policy and legal affairs for Sealaska Corp., in a phone interview.”It stuck with the existing definition in ANCSA, which is 1/4 Alaska Native, so that’s what we use.”

Kookesh said there are Sealaska shareholders who are less than 1/4 Native, but those shareholders were gifted stock and are descendants of shareholders.

[Saturday Night Lights: Major aurora activity predicted this weekend]

The 1/4 blood quantum threshold is also a common cutoff for enrollment into many Native American tribes or to receive treaty or federal benefits, including exemption from the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Worl said since corporate institutions protect Native land ownership and studies indicate more and more shareholder descendants are less than 1/4 Native, she expects there will be increasing pressure from shareholders for a change to blood quantum requirements.

“It’s starting to gain a little bit more traction because we have more and more shareholders who are having children outside our Alaska Native bloodlines,” Kookesh said. “It hasn’t been brought up to a vote again at Sealaska, but it’s certainly a topic we’re keeping an eye on.”

However, a recent survey showed widespread support for keeping things as they are, Kookesh said.

She said a shareholder survey from December 2018 showed 2/3 of Sealaska shareholders were opposed to changing the blood quantum requirement.

More lenient requirements could mean more shareholders, which would mean thinner slices of the distribution pie for individuals. In 2018, Sealaska’s total distribution was nearly $40 million, according to Sealaska.

Despite the survey results, Kookesh said changing blood quantum requirements is something she said Sealaska will continue to consider, and she expects it to be an ongoing concern in Alaska and the rest of the U.S.

[New technology brings old hat back]

Worl’s speech touched some alternatives to the 1/4 requirement that could be adopted.

One idea was to potentially adopt a less stringent 1/8 blood quantum requirement.

“The 1/8 blood quantum may become problematic in the near future, or actually it may already be here,” Worl said.

Other possibilities raised were requiring someone to be a lineal descendant of an original Sealaska shareholder without any blood quantum requirement, or requiring that a a shareholder be regarded as an Alaska Native by a Native Village or Native group.

Worl said the latter idea would be “difficult to operationalize.”

“I don’t know why Congress got focused in on a quarter blood quantum, but that’s what they did, and it’s unfortunate that we have to struggle now with this dilemma with how we define ourselves because of how Congress defined us at one point in time,” Kookesh said.


• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.


More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of April 15

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Monday, April 15, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Juneau’s Recycling Center and Household Hazardous Waste Facility at 5600 Tonsgurd Court. (City and Borough of Juneau photo)
Recycleworks stops accepting dropoffs temporarily due to equipment failure

Manager of city facility hopes operations can resume by early next week

People staying at the city’s cold weather emergency shelter during its final night of operation board a bus bound for the Glory Hall and other locations in town early Tuesday morning. In the background are tour buses that a company says were broken into and damaged during the winter by people staying at the shelter, and one of the first cruise ships of the season. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Juneau’s homeless head outdoors with no official place to camp as warming shelter closes for season

“Everybody’s frantic. They’re probably all going to be sleeping on the streets by the stores again.”

The Anchorage band Big Chimney Barn Dance performs in the main ballroom of Centennial Hall on Sunday night near the end of the 49th Annual Alaska Folk Festival. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
49th annual Alaska Folk Festival ends with promise of an ‘epic’ 50th

Weeklong event remains free after nearly a half-century “which is unheard of,” board president says.

Students leave the Marie Drake Building, which houses local alternative education offerings including the HomeBRIDGE correspondence program, on April 4. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Educators and lawmakers trying to determine impacts, next steps of ruling denying state funds for homeschoolers

“Everybody wants to make sure there’s a way to continue supporting homeschool families,” Kiehl says.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Sunday, April 14, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

TJ Beers holds a sign to advocate for the rights of people experiencing homelessness outside the state Capitol on April 9. Beers was homeless for four years and in three states. “I don’t know how I survived,” he said. (Claire Stremple/Alaska Beacon)
Lawmakers weigh whether to reduce or acknowledge rights of growing Alaska homeless population

As cities try to house people, Dunleavy’s protest bill would further criminalize them, advocates say.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Saturday, April 13, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read