Sealaska Heritage

NEWS_SHI to sponsor lecture on the historical context of Alaska Native leadership for Walter Soboleff Day

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Free event to be offered in-person, virtually

Nov. 10, 2023

(About the Lecturer) (About Dr. Walter Soboleff)

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will sponsor a free lecture next week on Alaska Native leadership from the late 1800s to modern times in honor of Walter Soboleff Day.

In his talk, Hall of Famers in History: Decades of Leadership, longtime Tlingit leader Edward K. Thomas will lay out how tribal relations to the United States have changed over the decades.

“It is helpful to match our Native leaders to the timeframe in which they did their outstanding work addressing the challenges that faced Native people at that time,” Thomas wrote.

The lecture is scheduled for 12 pm, Tuesday, Nov. 14 (Walter Soboleff Day), in Shuká Hít within SHI’s Walter Soboleff Building, 105 Heritage Way, in Juneau. The lecture will be livestreamed and posted on SHI’s YouTube channel. 

About the Lecturer

Ed Thomas was born and raised in Craig, Alaska, where he graduated from high school in 1960. He began his college education at Sheldon Jackson College earning his associate in science degree and then went on to earn his Bachelor of Science in Education from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.  In 1974, he accepted a fellowship from Pennsylvania State University where he earned his master’s in education administration.

Thomas began his 25-year commercial fishing career as a cook at the age of 13 on the FV Verness of Klawock. He would go on to skipper a seine boat and later a power troller; he currently owns a hand troller permit.

Thomas taught junior high school and coached the boy’s junior high basketball team in Klawock, Alaska, for a year. He was a high school counselor and coached the boy’s junior high basketball team in Craig, Alaska, and served as the Indian Studies student counselor for the Sitka School District. He also served as the executive director of the Indian Education Program in Ketchikan for nine years.

Thomas has been the president emeritus of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (Tlingit Haida Central Council) since April 2008. He served as president of the tribe from October 1984 until April 2007, was re-elected in 2010 and officially retired in 2014. He served on the Sealaska Corporation board of directors from 1993 to 2020 and is the chairman of the Sealaska Timber Corporation board in addition to a variety of other positions and responsibilities he fulfills.

About Dr. Walter Soboleff

Dr. Walter Soboleff, who "walked into the forest" in 2011 at age 102, was a Tlingit of the Raven, Dog Salmon clan. He was lauded as a spiritual leader who helped Native and non-Native people alike at a time when segregation was the norm. Throughout his life, he worked tirelessly to advance Native civil rights.

He was largely known for his far-reaching radio ministry, which drew a substantial audience across the region, and he was highly regarded in the Native and non-Native community. In 2014, Alaska Gov. Sean Parnel signed legislation making Nov. 14 — Soboleff’s birthday — Dr. Walter Soboleff Day. He also served as SHI’s longtime chair, and in 2015, the institute named its new building in his honor. 

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: Kathy Dye, SHI Media and Publications Deputy Director, 907.321.4636,

Caption: Edward K. Thomas giving a lecture at SHI in 2022. Photo by Stacy Unzicker. Note: Media outlets are permitted to publish this photo for coverage of this story.