Sealaska Heritage

NEWS_SHI to sponsor lecture on tribal governments, sovereignty

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Free virtual event part of Native American Heritage Month celebration

Nov. 10, 2020

(About the Lecturer) (Flyer)

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will sponsor a free online lecture this Friday on Native sovereignty and the history and the current state of tribal governments as part of its series in recognition of Native American Heritage Month.

In the presentation, A Review of Tribal Governments, Ed Thomas, president emeritus of Tlingit Haida Central Council, will discuss the progression of tribal governments over time, tribal relationships to tribal territories, relationships to other governments and the importance of governance to tribal citizens.

He will also talk about the definition of inherent sovereignty, laws that tribes had developed over time, how those laws were ratified, and the importance of governance in early times as well as how laws were enforced. He will also discuss how tribes begin the process of adopting “non-traditional” governing practices.

“Many tribes have totally adopted the ‘Western’ ways and mechanisms of government. Documentation and maintenance of citizenship enrollment and all other official tribal documents are of utmost importance,” Thomas wrote. “Separation of the political branch from the judiciary and administrative branches of government has become increasingly important.”

The talk, scheduled at noon on Friday, Nov. 13, will be live streamed on SHI’s YouTube channel ( The series, which focuses on citizens and shareholders in Alaska Native corporations and tribes, is also offered as part of a one-credit course through the University of Alaska Southeast.

The talks are offered through the Preparing Indigenous Teachers and Administrators for Alaska Schools (PITAAS) program and funded by the Alaska Native Education Program. 

About the Lecturer

President Emeritus Tlingit Haida Central Council Edward K. Thomas was born and raised in Craig, a small fishing community in Southeast Alaska. He attended Sheldon Jackson College and the University of Alaska Fairbanks before accepting a fellowship from Pennsylvania State University, where he earned his master’s in education administration (1977).

A commercial fisherman for more than 30 years, he formerly served as the executive director of the Indian Studies Program in Ketchikan, president of the Ketchikan Indian Corporation (KIC), executive director of KIC, president of Ketchikan Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) Camp #14 and president of the Ketchikan Tlingit and Haida Community Council.

Thomas was elected president of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska in 1984 and served as president of the tribe until 2007. He has served on numerous boards and committees in Alaska and was a founding member of the Alaska Native Education Association.

Nationally, Thomas is the elected secretary of the National Congress of American Indians. He served on the White House Advisory Council for Tribal Colleges and Universities and served a term on the National Advisory Council on Indian Education. He has met with six United States presidents and was one of five United States tribal leaders to meet twice with United Nations Secretary General Boutro Boutro Ghali.

Throughout his career he has also been a bartender, janitor, pulp mill worker, longshoreman, construction worker, and building contractor.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.

CONTACT: Amy Fletcher, SHI Media and Publications Director, 907.586.9116,


Note: SHI’s lecture scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 3, has been cancelled.