Groundbreaking held for Walter Soboleff Center

Members of the Yees Ku Oo dance group perform before and during the groundbreaking for the Walter Soboleff Center at Seward and Front Streets in downtown Juneau. Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO News

Local, state, and Native officials, and Native elders donned hard hats and picked up shovels on Thursday afternoon to break ground on a new cultural center planned for downtown Juneau.

The Walter Soboleff Center will be erected at the corner of Seward and Front Streets with Shattuck Way running along the rear of the building.

The 29-thousand square foot space will be devoted to the research and study of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures. The building will house education, arts and language programs, archives and artifact collections, and offices of the Sealaska Heritage Institute.

Former Juneau mayor and former Sealaska corporation chairman and CEO Byron Mallot heads up the group raising funds for the center’s construction.

This is what ANCSA is all about. To create another giant step in Alaska’s Native peoples contributing their strength and their essence, their beauty, their values, their traditions, and their heritage to all Alaska and even to the nation.”

First Lady Sandy Parnell spoke on behalf of Governor Sean Parnell who attended the event, but who could not speak because of laryngitis.

“Like Dr. Soboleff himself, let this center stand for peace and understanding, for mutual respect and honor, for working together to lift all people up. That, by lifting people up, it will communicate to the world the values of Alaska and the values of Dr. Soboleff.”

Governor Sean Parnell (from left), Sealaska Heritage Institute Trustee Chair Marlene Johnson, Sealaska CEO/President Chris McNeil, and Juneau Mayor Merrill Sanford break ground for the new Walter Soboleff Center in downtown Juneau. An architectural model of the center sits on a table at the far left. Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO News

Dr. Soboleff’s sons Ross, Walter Jr., and Sasha also participated in Thursday’s groundbreaking.

And for those things which we hold dear in our hearts, it is so grateful to have this unfold before us in the name of our dad, Dr. Walter Soboleff.”

Selina Everson, past Grand Camp president, represented the Alaska Native Sisterhood:

We have progressed from our Tlingit box of culture to a building that will carry on Dr. Walter Soboleff’s legacy. We have come a long way. We have a long way to go.”

Everybody gets their digs in. Eagle Clan Leader David Katzeek (from left), Paul Marks of the Raven Clan, and Rosita Worl of the Sealaska Heritage Institute participate in the groundbreaking with their own form of Tlingit hard hats as Sealaska Chairman Albert Kookesh watches in the background. Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO News

Other speakers included Albert Kookesh, Chairman of the Sealaska Board of Directors; Chris McNeil, Sealaska CEO and President; Juneau Mayor Merrill Sanford, Juneau Representative Cathy Munoz; Ed Thomas, President of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska; Eagle Clan Leader David Katzeek, and Paul Marks who provided the Raven response. A letter from Juneau Representative Beth Kerttula and Juneau Senator Dennis Egan, who could not attend the groundbreaking, was read during the ceremony. The Yees Ku Oo dance group performed before and during the event.

Sealaska Heritage Insititute officials say they have raised about 75-percent of the funds needed for the $20 million project. Some of that money included state and CBJ appropriations, or grants from the Alaska Native Education Program or the Cruise Industry Charitable Foundation.

Completion is expected for the end of 2014.

The center’s proposed site, previously known as “The Pit” or the “Hole in the Ground,” was turned into a temporary park after Sealaska corporation acquired the vacant lot and donated it to the Sealaska Heritage Institute. The space used to be site of the Endicott Building or the Skinner Building which burned down almost exactly nine years ago.

The Reverend Doctor Walter Soboleff was a Presbyterian minister, and spiritual and cultural standard bearer of the Tlingit people. He passed away two years ago at the age of 102.

Walter Soboleff Center model
Architectural scale model of the proposed Walter Soboleff Center was on display at Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony. Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO News
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