Richard Peterson, Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s third-term president, spoke about tribal governance Friday at University of Alaska Southeast. The talk was part of the Evening at Egan series and helped kick off Alaska Native and Native American Heritage month. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

Richard Peterson, Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s third-term president, spoke about tribal governance Friday at University of Alaska Southeast. The talk was part of the Evening at Egan series and helped kick off Alaska Native and Native American Heritage month. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

Tlingit and Haida president presents at UAS to start Alaska Native Heritage Month

Evening at Egan series details tribal governance

The youngest, second youngest and third youngest person ever elected Tlingit and Haida President spoke at University of Alaska Southeast on Friday night.

Richard Peterson, 42, Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s third-term president, holds all three of those designations. He spoke about tribal governance as part of the university’s Evening at Egan series and to kick off Alaska Native and Native American Heritage Month.

“Healthy tribes make healthy communities,” Peterson said. “That’s something you’ll hear from me a lot.”

During his speech, which is available to watch online , Peterson detailed some of the ways in which the local tribes are healthy and areas that could be improved.

He also explained some of the basics of tribal governance and discussed current-day challenges facing Tlingit and Haida.

“One of the things I find is most people don’t even know who Tlingit and Haida is or what we do,” Peterson said.

He said while Tlingit and Haida tribes have thousands of years of history, they have been federally recognized for about 80 years as a result of a lawsuit.

Peterson said Tlingit and Haida plays a role in how villages are policed, transportation and many other facets of life for Alaska Natives and described the basic form of governance.

Every two years, communities elect delegates, Peterson said. Juneau is the largest of the communities with more than 7,000 of about 31,000 worldwide tribal citizens.

Of the tribal citizens, about 15 percent are younger than 18, which is about equal to the barely more than 15 percent who are 65 or older. The remaining population falls somewhere in between, according to a slide shown by Peterson.

Delegates then handle governance changes and every two years elect an executive council, including the president.

“People ask a lot, ‘Every two years? That’s a lot,’” Peterson said. “For continuity’s sake, you’d probably wish for longer terms, but my belief is I should be held accountable, and I kind of consider it my report card.”

What could be improved

One thing that was repeatedly lamented by Peterson — as well as University of Alaska Southeast Vice Chancellor of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs Joe Nelson, who introduced Peterson to the audience, and audience member and UAS associate professor of Alaska Native Languages Lance Twitchell — was a lack of Alaska Native representation in classrooms.

Twitchell is a proponent of Native language immersion, and Nelson said Native history should be taught in public schools.

“It (Native history) is a big deal,” said Nelson, who is also chairman of the Sealaska board of directors. “It should be part of our general education requirements, but is not.”

Nelson said some elements of it are taught, and he was not bashing the education system, but it could stand to be improved.

Peterson said a language-immersion daycare is in the works, and that could be a stepping stone toward a K-12 immersion school.

Also, Peterson said he hopes Tlingit and Haida’s vocational school could expand to become a tribal college that could work closely with UAS.

In all educational endeavors, Peterson said he wants equal attention given to Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian languages.

“We will have equity in language,” Peterson said.

Another thing Peterson highlighted as needing significant improvement is Village Public Safety Officer Program, which he characterized as being severely underfunded.

“You hear cuts to law enforcement, and times that by 100, and that’s us,” Peterson said.

He also said many villages lack adequate law enforcement presence in general, and asked the audience to imagine living in a “community where someone can be murdered and no one shows up.”

What’s going well

Peterson painted a relatively rosy financial outlook for Tlingit and Haida, which had a tribal trust fund of $21.99 million at the end of 2017, according to a slide shown during the presentation, and currently sits closer to $25 million.

He also outlined the success of business enterprises including Tlingit and Haida’s catering company, coffee shops, governmental contracts and more.

“In the next couple of years, we’re going to see some really big paydays to our tribes,” Peterson said, and he credited “amazing people in the tribe” with those successes.

Those numbers could soon be boosted by a cultural immersion park, which Peterson said is hoped to be opened and operated in 2021.

A 35-year lease agreement was reached between the Central Council and the City and Borough of Juneau in 2016 for a property on Thane Road — the former Thane Ore House — connected to the project.

It will included multiple buildings, a “ginormous” carving shed, repatriated items, a gift shop and more, Peterson said.

He also outlined successes related to transportation, the tribal court and more.

“If you’re not a tribal member, and you live in Juneau, you benefit from a healthy tribe,” Peterson said.

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Dec. 3

Mountain reflections are seen from the Mendenhall Wetlands. (Courtesy Photo / Denise Carroll)
Wild Shots: Photos of Mother Nature in Alaska

Superb reader-submitted photos of wildlife, scenery and/or plant life.

Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire 
At Wednesday evening’s special Assembly meeting, the Assembly appropriated nearly $4 million toward funding a 5.5% wage increase for all CBJ employees along with a 5% increase to the employer health contribution. According to City Manager Rorie Watt, it doesn’t necessarily fix a nearly two decade-long issue of employee retention concerns for the city.
City funds wage increase amid worker shortage

City Manager says raise doesn’t fix nearly two decade-long issue of employee retainment

People and dogs traverse the frozen surface Mendenhall Lake on Monday afternoon. Officials said going on to any part of Mendenhall Lake can open up serious risks for falling into the freezing waters. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
Officials warn residents about the dangers of thin ice on Mendenhall Lake

Experts outline what to do in the situation that someone falls through ice

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Dec. 3

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

Molly Yazwinski holds a 3,000-year-old moose skull with antlers still attached, found in a river on Alaska’s North Slope. Her aunt, Pam Groves, steadies an inflatable canoe. (Courtesy Photo /Dan Mann)

 

2. A 14,000-year-old fragment of a moose antler, top left, rests on a sand bar of a northern river next to the bones of ice-age horses, caribou and muskoxen, as well as the horns of a steppe bison. Photo by Pam Groves.

 

3. Moose such as this one, photographed this year near Whitehorse in the Yukon, may have been present in Alaska as long as people have. Photo by Ned Rozell.
Alaska Science Forum: Ancient moose antlers hint of early arrival

When a great deal of Earth’s water was locked up within mountains… Continue reading

FILE - Freight train cars sit in a Norfolk Southern rail yard on Sept. 14, 2022, in Atlanta. The Biden administration is saying the U.S. economy would face a severe economic shock if senators don't pass legislation this week to avert a rail worker strike. The administration is delivering that message personally to Democratic senators in a closed-door session Thursday, Dec. 1.  (AP Photo / Danny Karnik)
Congress votes to avert rail strike amid dire warnings

President vows to quickly sign the bill.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
Juneau state Sen. Jesse Kiehl, left, gives a legislative proclamation to former longtime Juneau Assembly member Loren Jones, following Kiehl’s speech at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce’s weekly luncheon Thursday at the Juneau Moose Family Center.
Cloudy economy, but sunnier political outlook lie ahead for lawmakers, Kiehl says

Juneau’s state senator tells Chamber of Commerce bipartisan majority a key to meaningful action

Most Read