About 100 of the late Tlingit elder’s family and friends gathered at Juneau’s Marine Park for the bill signing ceremony on Wednesday, where Soboleff was remembered as a man who spread love and good will to all Alaskans.
The idea for a day honoring Soboleff first took off at the 2012 Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood Grand Camp convention.
“We were in Sitka at our 100th anniversary,” said Peter Naoroz, ANB’s 2nd Grand Vice President.
At the time, Naoroz was ANB grand secretary. He recalled that there were two competing resolutions calling on the legislature to make Soboleff’s birthday a day of remembrance in Alaska. His job was to combine them.
“It was quite an undertaking to try to get all of his accomplishments in a couple of pages,” he said.
Soboleff was born in 1908 in the now abandoned village of Killisnoo, near Angoon.
He was the first Alaska Native pastor in Juneau at a time when the town was segregated. He fought for civil rights alongside Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood leaders Roy and Elizabeth Peratrovich.
Later in life, Soboleff became the cultural and spiritual standard bearer of the Tlingit people, helping launch efforts to revitalize the language, as well as traditional art and dance.
He passed away in 2011 at the age of 102.
Naoroz said the thing he found most remarkable about Soboleff was his ability to make his fellow Alaska Natives take pride in themselves and their culture.
“He made people who were from this world, from this countryside right here, feel so special about their ability to tell stories, remember stories,” Naoroz said. “The power of the oral tradition and how he made people stand up and feel good about who they were.”
Wednesday’s bill signing ceremony included many similar sentiments. Gov. Parnell said Soboleff was known for his love of all Alaskans.
“And this day will help us remember the love that he had for each of us, as well as for this place,” Parnell said.
One of Soboleff’s four children, Walter junior, said his father would have been humbled by the recognition. He said the family hopes Alaskans will mark the day of remembrance by thinking about Soboleff’s teachings.
“Respect for others, caring, loving, compassion,” Soboleff said.
Walter Soboleff joins Elizabeth Peratrovich, Ted Stevens and Jay Hammond as prominent Alaskans to have a day named for them. Sealaska Heritage Institute’s new cultural center under construction in downtown Juneau will be named for him as well.
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