Sealaska Heritage

NEWS_SHI to sponsor lecture on sustainable development in Indigenous Southeast Alaska

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Free virtual event part of Native American Heritage Month celebration

Nov. 9, 2020

(About the Lecturer) (Flyer)

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will sponsor a free online lecture this Thursday on sustainable development in Indigenous Southeast Alaska as part of its series in recognition of Native American Heritage Month.

The lecture, “Values, Tenure, and Organization: Critical Dimensions of Sustainable Development in Indigenous Southeast Alaska,” will be given by Dr. Thomas Thornton, dean of Arts and Sciences and vice-provost of Research and Sponsored programs at the University of Alaska Southeast and affiliate professor at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute.

Values, tenure, and organization are highly evolved tools for achieving sustainable development in complex and changing social-ecological systems. However, for sustainability success they must be productively aligned, Thornton wrote. 

This is well illustrated by the development of the Indigenous values, tenure, and organization at the regional intra- and intertribal scales in greater Southeast Alaska, wherein a complex socio-political organization developed over thousands of years to sustain balanced use of the rich but dynamic and “patchy” Pacific coastal waters and temperate rainforest. Native cultural values and institutions were severely disrupted and subordinated with colonization, however, and then only partially realigned with the progressive, hybrid neo-institutionalism of the Alaska Native Brotherhood, Indian Reorganization Act, and Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act eras. 

“New institutions have been created without full consideration of alignment, resulting in a crowded ‘institutional ecosystem’ in which a 21st century sovereignty for sustainability is being played out. In my presentation, I’ll look at some prospects for alignment of values, tenure, and organization in the context of sustainable livelihoods,” Thornton wrote.

The talk, scheduled at noon on Thursday, Nov.12, 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

Dr. Tom Thornton is the dean of Arts and Sciences and vice-provost for Research and Sponsored Programs at the University of Alaska Southeast and senior research fellow at the Environmental Change Institute, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford. His research interests include Indigenous and local knowledge systems and human environmental interactions, the political ecology of sustainable development and resource stewardship in complex social-ecological systems, and human adaptation to environmental change in the North Pacific, especially Southeast Alaska.

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,