Sealaska and Sitka Tribe of Alaska Work Together on Sacred Site Management
SITKA, Alaska – Sealaska, Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) and Sitka Tribe of Alaska (STA) are formalizing a common desire to work together for the management of the five cultural sites on Sealaska land. The agreement also includes additional sites that Sealaska may receive in the future that are in the traditional territory of the Sitka Tribe and clans. Some of the sites have been in Sealaska ownership for over a decade.
Sealaska received title to these “cemetery sites and historical places” under a provision of the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). Under this provision, Sealaska requested conveyance of 96 sites and over 80 have been conveyed, including the five sites near Sitka. Several are still pending conveyance.
“The ability of Natives to regain title to their cemetery sites and historical places took an act of Congress, which authorized transfer of ownership of these sites to Sealaska. Now the Sitka Tribe and Sealaska are entering into a cornerstone MOA, which allows tribes to manage those sites that originally belonged to them,” said Sealaska Chair Albert Kookesh. “The ownership of these sites is possible only because Sealaska and other Native corporations made a policy decision that these types of sites were important to the Native people. They went to Congress and in Sealaska’s case agreed to give up valuable timbered economic lands in the Tongass National Forest to receive these culturally important sites for the benefit of the Natives in Southeast Alaska.”
“Sitka Tribe of Alaska welcomes the opportunity to assume management responsibility for these sites and to use them to further the understanding of Native culture and history in the Sitka area. The Tribe is pleased to sign the MOA with Sealaska and SHI,” said Ted Wright, STA general manager. “This agreement strengthens our affiliation with these sites and gives our members and clans a stronger voice to ensure they are used in a manner that is consistent with and perpetuates our culture. The MOA spells out a variety of processes and practices that will help ensure that these important places, within the traditional territory of the Sitka Tribe, are protected now and in the future.”
“This MOA is the second that Sealaska has signed with a tribe in our homeland and we look forward to others in the Tongass while we move forward to secure and protect our sacred sites for the original people of the Tongass,” said Kookesh. The first MOA was between Sealaska and the Organized Village of Kasaan, signed on December 16, 2011.
“A lot of hard work went into drafting this agreement, and we thank the leadership of Sealaska and SHI for the time and effort they put in to get this done,” said Wright. “Of course, the real work is just beginning. But with this MOA we now have a framework for communications and a well-designed roadmap for how to positively and cooperatively move forward.”
About Sitka Tribe of Alaska STA is the federally recognized government for more than 4,000 tribal citizens who are primarily of Tlingit, Haida, Aleut and Tsimshian heritage in the Sheet’-Ká area.