An illustration depicts a planned 12-acre education campus located on 42 acres in Juneau owned by the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, which was announced during the opening of its annual tribal assembly Wednesday. (Image courtesy of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)

An illustration depicts a planned 12-acre education campus located on 42 acres in Juneau owned by the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, which was announced during the opening of its annual tribal assembly Wednesday. (Image courtesy of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)

Tribal education campus, cultural immersion park unveiled as 89th annual Tlingit and Haida Assembly opens

State of the Tribe address emphasizes expanding geographical, cultural and economic “footprint.”

A new 12-acre tribal education campus on forested hillside behind Fred Meyer and a re-imagined 457-acre Cultural Immersion Park near Tee Harbor were highlighted Wednesday during an annual State of the Tribe address on the opening morning of the 89th annual Tribal Assembly of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

The projects combine efforts to reclaim tribal land, expand traditional cultural and educational activities, and provide support to students in a state education system that “is failing our students,” said Tlingit and Haida President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson in his speech to the assembly at the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. Fundraising for the projects is expected to take place during the next three to four years, with construction beginning soon after.

Tlingit and Haida President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson delivers his State of the Tribe speech to delegates during the opening of the 89th annual Tribal Assembly on Wednesday morning at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Tlingit and Haida President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson delivers his State of the Tribe speech to delegates during the opening of the 89th annual Tribal Assembly on Wednesday morning at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

He also said the projects are part of the tribes’ “landback” efforts that have expanded their “footprint” by nearly 750 acres recently, which itself was part of his overall speech theme of economic and other tribal growth during his past decade as president and looking ahead to future years. The theme of this year’s three-day assembly, attended by 118 delegates and many other participants, is “Rooted in Tradition, Growing a Sustainable Future.”

The education campus will include current tribal programs such as Tlingit and Haida Head Start, Haa Yoo X’atángi Kúdi (HYXK) language immersion program, and Little Eagles and Ravens Nest (LEARN) childcare program, Peterson said.

“We’re trying to build a village, to bring land back,” he said. “This isn’t just a social movement. It’s our way of life. It’s bringing the lands that were traditionally ours, and taking them and making them ours again, and giving our people the space to thrive.”

Education spaces will offer K-12 and tribal college programs, ranging from traditional classroom instruction to hands-on activities such as greenhouses. The campus is located on 42 acres of tribal land, so Peterson said there is room for expansion as well as features such as a network of trails.

An artist’s depiction of the events center at the education campus planned in Juneau by the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. (Image courtesy of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)

An artist’s depiction of the events center at the education campus planned in Juneau by the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. (Image courtesy of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)

There will also be an events center with a 2,000-seat basketball court, concert space, activity rooms and other facilities.

“I’m really incredibly proud of this too,” Peterson said. “This is going to be a place that we can gather that we can do our things from Celebration to Gold Medal. We hope this will be the home to those events and more.”

Indulging in his role as tribal president to call for an immediate spontaneous action, he asked the delegates to approve the first official name for a portion of the campus by naming the events center after a longtime state lawmaker from Angoon who died in 2021.

“There’s one person who keeps coming into my mind when I see this picture,” Peterson said, showing a slide of the events center. “And I would ask now for unanimous consent to call this the Sen. Albert Kookesh Gymnasium.”

The audience roared their approval with applause.

There are also plans to establish campuses in other communities, Peterson said.

“Everywhere we have a Head Start now we hope to build an Early Education Campus in all the communities,” he said, showing a slide with conceptual designs for such centers in Klawock and Craig.

An wide-view illustration of the education campus planned in Juneau by the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. (Image courtesy of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)

An wide-view illustration of the education campus planned in Juneau by the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. (Image courtesy of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)

In addition to tribal education programs implemented over the years, Tlingit and Haida has also sought a broader public influence including making Native language classes mandatory in the state’s K-12 education system. Peterson noted in his speech the Juneau School District is dealing with a budget crisis resulting in a consolidation of schools — in part a symptom of problems affecting other districts statewide — and that 41% of students in the district are tribal citizens.

“We have a system failing our students and we have to do something,” he said. “And that’s really what this is all about.”

Another major announcement was the Cultural Immersion Park, with Peterson stating $6.5 million was transferred Wednesday to buy the 457 acres of land near Tee Harbor. Part of the deal includes leasing about 20 acres to Allen Marine Tours for a dock and bunkhouses.

“We’re going to build a village site for our communities,” he said, describing it in similar language as the education campus. “Again, we want a place where language is thriving, our arts are thriving.”

Peterson said one of his goals is funding many of the cultural programs using revenues from tourism offerings. He noted the tribes’ ongoing expansion into that industry including the purchase of a guest lodge and other property downtown, and a stewardship with the U.S. Forest Service at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center.

The Tlingit and Haida Elders Group performs the entrance dance at the 89th annual Tribal Assembly of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska on Wednesday morning at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The Tlingit and Haida Elders Group performs the entrance dance at the 89th annual Tribal Assembly of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska on Wednesday morning at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Tlingit and Haida has also made notable achievements during the past year in areas such as healthcare and public safety, Peterson said, noting that tribal officials were the first on-scene when a massive landslide hit homes in Wrangell last November. He said the tribes currently have employees in 21 states and 76 communities.

“In the 10 years that I’ve been here we’ve gone from 190 employees to just over 600,” he said. “Today we have over 70% tribal citizen hire and, if you add other Alaska Natives and Native Americans we’re at 80%.”

The agenda for the three-day assembly includes reports by top officers on Wednesday, followed by elections for top tribal officials via nominations during the opening afternoon and voting on Thursday morning. In addition to officers, the elections will include honoring an emerging leader and delegate/citizen of the year.

Speeches, discussions and presentations on topics ranging from fisheries management to landless tribes legislation to consideration of tribal resolutions are also scheduled during the assembly.

Peterson, who is seeking another term as president, said the example set by leaders preceding him accounts for the tribes’ successes today and optimism when planning for the future.

“What I always want to say this: Tlingit and Haida is successful today because we didn’t have to fix anything,” he said. “We have a foundation that goes back generations.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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