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SHI seeking copies of letters penned by Soboleff

Nov. 9, 2015


Sealaska and Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will host a discussion about the late Walter Soboleff in celebration of Dr. Walter Soboleff Day and Native American Heritage Month.

The event, A Restrospective View of Dr. Walter Soboleff, will feature stories about his life, a reading of his hand-written letters and a formal transfer of an original painted portrait of him from Sealaska to Sealaska Heritage Institute, which named its new building in honor of the late Tlingit spiritual leader and SHI Chair.

“He had a profound effect on Native and non-Native people across the state. He was a prominent spiritual force for our people at a time when we needed it the most,” said SHI President Rosita Worl.

Albert Kookesh, who was Soboleff’s nephew and close friend, will lead the discussion, and he and other guests will share stories about Soboleff and the wit and wisdom he imparted. The Rev. Dr. Phil Campbell, pastor of Northern Light United Church, will tell a story about why that church was shut down under Soboleff’s ministry at the height of its popularity.

The panel also will share copies of some of his letters at the event. Dr. Soboleff was famous for sending hand-written letters to people, often to encourage, congratulate or thank them. He became so well known for his letters that they were prized by people who received even the most ordinary notes. The Juneau Empire recently chronicled the transformative effect his letters had on a young Native man who did not know Soboleff yet received a letter of encouragement from him while an inmate at Juneau’s prison. The inmate wrote back, prompting a series of letters between the two.

“I began to realize if I set my mind to it, I could have a pretty good life. I felt like he was on my team,” the former inmate said in the article. “I thought my life was over but his letters helped rebuild who I was.”

SHI is hoping people who have letters from Dr. Soboleff will share copies for this event. People who want to share letters should send them to Dixie Hutchinson at by Thursday, Nov. 12.

Sealaska Chair Joe Nelson and Sealaska President and CEO Anthony Mallott will formally transfer a painted portrait of Dr. Soboleff commissioned by Sealaska to SHI Chair Marlene Johnson. The painting will hang prominently in the Walter Soboleff Building. The event will close with comments by a Soboleff family spokesperson.

This free event is scheduled at noon on Friday, Nov. 13, at the Walter Soboleff Building on the eve of Walter Soboleff Day, which is Nov. 14—Dr. Soboleff’s birthday. The event is sponsored by Sealaska and Sealaska Heritage Institute.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private, nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.


CONTACT: Rosita Worl, SHI President, 907.463.4844


Caption: Dr. Walter Soboleff in regalia. Photo by Brian Wallace