Tlingit elder and original Sealaska Native Corporation board member Clarence Jackson passed away Thursday at the age of 78.
He’s being remembered for his contributions to the Native land claims movement, and for being an ambassador for Tlingit culture in both the business world and his personal life.
Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl says Jackson relished comforting people in times of need. He served as master of ceremonies at the memorial service for the late Reverend Dr. Walter Soboleff in 2011.
“He became like our ambassador from Sealaska, where he would attend all of the funerals, all the memorials,” Worl said. “He was there to comfort clans and the family of those who had lost someone.”
Jackson was born in Kake in 1934. He lived there most of his life, attending Sheldon Jackson High School in Sitka, before moving back to the village, where he was a fisherman and operated a small store.
Worl says he was a great fisherman, who loved boats.
“We always say, it is as if the spirits of the animals know him and they give themselves to those kind of people who have those good spirits,” she said. “So, yes, he was a great fisherman.”
In the 1960s, Jackson was involved in the Alaska Native claims movement as a delegate to the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indians. He served as Central Council president from 1972 through 1976.
Also in 1972, Jackson signed the articles of incorporation for Sealaska, the regional Native Corporation for Southeast, created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. He was the only board member to serve continuously from the time Sealaska was founded.
Current board chair Albert Kookesh first met Jackson when he joined the board in 1975. He says they quickly became friends.
“We’re both from villages right next to each other. He’s from Kake and I’m from Angoon,” said Kookesh. “He knew my father and he knew Walter Soboleff, my uncle. So I got immediately scooped up into his little circle.”
Kookesh says Jackson was a champion of village life and traditional culture on the board, something he attributed to being raised by his Tlingit speaking grandparents.
Kookesh says his ability to speak both Tlingit and English fluently made Jackson a valuable asset to the company.
“His Tlingit background, and his Tlingit stories, and his Tlingit upbringing gave him a really good sense of oration,” Kookesh said. “Very, very articulate. Not somebody who went to college, not somebody who went to law school, not somebody who went to graduate school. But somebody who went to the upper learnings of the Tlingit culture.”
When the corporation established the nonprofit Sealaska Heritage Institute in 1980, Jackson became one of its trustees and served as chair of the Council of Traditional Scholars.
Worl says the council was instrumental in identifying the core cultural values that guide the institute to this day.
“Clarence would remind us always, this is what makes us Native people, it’s our cultural values,” Worl said.
Jackson talked about the importance of preserving those values at Celebration 2012, the biennial cultural and educational event sponsored by the Heritage Institute.
“We’re strengthening our culture,” Jackson said. “We might hear a new song here and there this Celebration. But it’s a shoring up time to not be doing anything just for show. But to show the young people, this is the way it is.”
Jackson spent much of the past two months in Seattle receiving cancer treatment. He recently returned to Alaska, and died surrounded by friends and family on Thursday.
A service will be held at the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall (former ANB Hall) in Juneau on Saturday at 5 p.m.
A video of Clarence Jackson from Celebration 2012:
Tlingit elder and original Sealaska Corporation board member Clarence Jackson died Thursday after a battle with cancer. He was 78.
Jackson was born in 1934 in Kake, where he lived most of his life. He attended Sheldon Jackson High School in Sitka, and was involved in the Alaska Native claims movement in the 1960s with the Tlingit and Haida Central Council.
He served as Central Council president from 1972 through 1976. Also in 1972, he signed the articles of incorporation for Sealaska, the regional Native Corporation for Southeast, created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
Jackson had been the only board member to serve continuously since Sealaska was founded. He also served as a trustee for the Sealaska Heritage Institute from the time it was created in 1980.
SHI President Rosita Worl says Jackson was an ambassador of Tlingit culture in the board room and his personal life.
“He lived in the village and he said that it is our responsibility to make sure that our people can continue to live in their homeland,” Worl said. “So, even with all of our businesses and investments, even if they were doing well outside of Alaska, he was always reminding us that we had a responsibility to our people in the villages.”
After the Heritage Institute was created, Jackson not only served as a trustee, but also as chairman of the Council of Traditional Scholars.
Worl says the council was instrument in identifying the core cultural values that guide the institute to this day.
“I remember some of the almost philosophical discussions they would have about how much change is acceptable, how much change can we allow in our society before we become not Tlingit,” Worl said. “And Clarence would remind us always that this is what makes us as Native people. It’s our cultural values.”
Jackson was a lifelong commercial and subsistence fisherman, who also ran a store in Kake and served as a director of Kake Tribal Corporation.
Worl says Jackson enjoyed telling stories and making people laugh. He was often the person who helped organize memorial services for elders who died, including his longtime friend the Reverend Dr. Walter Soboleff, who passed away in 2011.
Worl says Jackson spent much of the past two months in Seattle getting cancer treatment. But he was able to make it back to Alaska, where he died surrounded by friends and family on Thursday.
Services are pending.