We stand as Native peoples on the shoulders of cultural giants. Leaders that have forged the way for our sustained presence on these lands since time eternal.

Byron was one of those giants.

He, and other leaders, inspire us to collectively share the responsibility for carrying on their legacy. Each one of us has the capacity to apply what has been imparted on us – to continue the momentum of the giants that have gone before us.

Gunalchéesh, Byron. For your wisdom, leadership and vision.

We are Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian. We are one. 

A tribute by Keil ti’ McKenna Hunt – Grandaughter of Byron Mallott
Our Grandfather, Our Uncle, Our Brother, Our Neighbor, Our Friend – Byron Mallott
Where does one even begin with the loss of a life? Do you count the accomplishments? The awards given? The plaques engraved? I suppose we could. I suppose we could rudimentarily begin to list everything that Byron Mallott did in his life; from becoming the mayor of Yakutat at the young age of 22, to holding one of the highest forms of public office as lieutenant governor of Alaska. Yet, I don’t believe the titles are what beg to be recognized. 
It’s the breadth of the lives touched. It is the heart and the vigor of what Byron Mallott, Dux̱ da neiḵ, K’oo del ta, did with every ounce of his being to better the lives of Alaska Natives. It is the profound sense of resilience he instilled in our people. It is about the legacy he left.
It is about the human. 
It is about the soul.
It is about the man.
This — is what begs to be remembered of Byron Mallott.
Standing in at around 6 feet, Byron carried himself with equal balance, grace and strength. His stern stoicism profound, while his boisterous laugh incessant. Riding through his hometown of Yakutat in his old jalopy was where he felt most at home. His salt and pepper hair swaying in the breeze, taking his grandchildren here and there, stopping to speak with an old friend at the general store, and never failing to spread joy with his genuine grin. People were easily drawn to Dux̱ da neiḵ, K’oo del ta’ by his infectious aura and caring nature — a neighbor to some, a coworker to others, but a friend to all.
Dux̱ da neiḵ, K’oo del ta’ was the clan leader of the Kwaashk’i Kwáan of the Lingít Raven, Humpback Salmon people in Yakutat, where he was born in 1943. It was a time of novel hardship for Alaska Natives, as boarding schools began to take their numbered place in the history of atrocities committed against indigenous peoples. Byron was among many young Alaska Natives who were sent away to be wiped of their culture and identity, though his spirit was never silenced, only amplified. 
With a voice that we can still hear to this day, he spoke of justice and equality, of public safety, of resilience, responsibility and obligation. From being expelled from boarding school for taking a stand against abuse, to abruptly leaving university to take his father’s place as mayor of Yakutat upon his death, to committing his entire existence to ensuring Alaska Natives sovereign prosperity through business and government, he led by his actions. He stood for what was right and what was true, and instilled it in his children to do the same.
Dux̱ da neiḵ, K’oo del ta’ was an impeccable public speaker. When he spoke, you listened. Not out of fear or compulsion, but out of awe and inspiration. He stood stoic and strong with a look of pensive humility; always taking care in the words he spoke. His words eloquently flowed through a space, weighed carefully and respectfully. Intentional and authentic — almost as if our ancestors were speaking through him.
He cared and connected deeply with the land, tirelessly advocating for Alaska Native land claims, and vehemently working with other influential Native leaders to convince the federal government to pass the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971. He always had the prosperity of Alaska Native people and culture in mind. 
Even when Byron was inducted into the Alaska Business Hall of Fame in 2013, he knew that his accomplishments were more about the work ethic than the recognition.
“To me, this means nothing more than we worked hard to do the best job possible. To try to keep our Native corporations Native, in a way that allowed us to be good business people but also better Native people.”
That is the thing about Byron Mallott. It was never about the titles held or the offices appointed to. It was about the people — always the people. How can I help my people?
Longtime friend or first acquaintance, it didn’t matter who you were, when meeting Byron you were always met with an unmatched warmth and attentiveness. He listened to you, he laughed with you, he mourned with you, and he uniquely saw You. Wherever he roamed, he planted seeds that had a profound effect on people and their communities, building genuine relationships that withstood the tests of time.
He taught his children to stand tall in their Alaska Native heritage, to live and lead their lives with grace, to work hard, to be resilient, and to simply believe that they could. He loved his grandchildren with a might too big for the spoken word. Always joking, always playing, and always there when they needed him, whether it was for a serious conversation or to mend a scraped knee. 
These are the things that we will remember. We will remember the man who loved more than anything to be out on his boat, who would take to the skies in his plane whenever given the chance, who would joke with his grandchildren until he was rolling on the floor laughing, and who loved listening to 50s rock n’ roll and traveling across the country with his beloved wife Antoinette and dog Tannis in their RV. 
So, as we honor Byron, as a leader, as an advocate, as a mentor, and as a friend, and we pay tribute to the legacy of his life, we hold close the small moments and the big moments. The strength of his presence, the comfort of his words, the depth of his ambition, and the immeasurable devotion that he had for Alaska and its people. 
Byron’s Eyak name, K’oo del ta,’ means “a person who would lead us into the future,” and lead us into the future he did. 
Though he may not be with us in body, he is with us in spirit, holding space in our hearts and in our minds, as we feel the north winds of Yakutat upon our cheeks, hear the cawing raven in the sky, and watch the soft crash of the waves, Dux̱ da neiḵ, K’oo del ta’ is telling us that we are enough, and we will succeed. 

THOUGHTS AND THANKS - SEALASKA LEADERSHIP

Joe Kaaxúxgu Nelson, Chair: “Dear Byron, clan leader for my father’s people, the Kwaashk’i Kwáan. Your passion made a difference in the world. We will forever marvel at your lifetime of work and your ability to deliver a message. We are grateful to have shared a moment in time with you. Today was a tough day. But, as you demonstrated countless times, we are in this together, in this Native place.”

Rosita Yeidiklasókw, Kaa háni Worl, President, Sealaska Heritage Institute: “True to his Tlingit name K’oo del ta’ — Man Who Leads Us Into a New World — Byron was a noble leader who led us into a new era while living by the ancient teachings to be fearless in fighting for our rights.”  

Jodi Mitchell, Vice Chair: “It was a pleasure to work with Byron and I always appreciated his wisdom and care for our people.”

Morgan Howard: “My heart goes out to the Mallott family. I pray for your strength in the coming days. Byron cared deeply about his family and all of us; he thought deeply about our place in the world and creating a better life for our collective children and grandchildren. He wished for a future where “every person is respected and has a sense of hope and opportunity.” He was a friend and mentor and I will miss him dearly.”

Edward K Thomas: “So sad to see this great loss! He led an honorable legacy of being an articulate spokesman on so many issues important to the Native community. His strong commitment to Alaska was appreciated by all Alaskans. My deepest condolences to Toni and the entire Mallott family.”

THOUGHTS AND THANKS ACROSS ALASKA

Senator Lisa Murkowski: “Byron Mallott was one of the state’s strongest and most passionate voices for Alaska’s first people. Having grown up in Yakutat, knowing the hardships of living in a rural community, Byron dedicated his life to advocating for a brighter future for his community, ensuring all voices were invited to speak, and working through disagreements by emphasizing common ground. Byron was a pioneering force in creating the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, building the Alaska Federation of Natives, and mentoring rising Alaskan leaders. Byron was always a true friend to me and one who I have long respected. My heart is with Toni, their children, and grandchildren. Verne and I grieve with them.”

Senator Dan Sullivan: “We lost an important piece of Alaska with the untimely passing of Byron Mallott, a long-time leader for the rights of Alaska Natives, and a strong advocate for economic opportunities for the whole state. He helped shape the state we know and love in so many ways. He will be greatly missed. Julie and I extend our deepest condolences and prayers to Toni — Julie’s dear cousin — and to the rest of the Mallott family for their tragic loss.”

Congressman Don Young:  “I’d like to send my condolences to the family of Byron Mallott. Byron was a fighter for our state, and a passionate advocate for Alaska Natives. Through his work as president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, his efforts drafting the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and his service as lieutenant governor, he leaves behind a strong and powerful legacy. It is my great hope that his love of our great state continues to inspire future generations of Alaskan leaders.”

Sam Kito: “Byron was a leader for generations of Alaska Natives. During his lifetime his accomplishments included serving as lieutenant governor of the state of Alaska and mayor of Yakutat and Juneau. He also served as commissioner of Community and Regional Affairs and president and CEO of Sealaska. He served on the boards of First Alaskans Institute, Alaska Federation of Natives, and Alaska Airlines. Among his many accomplishments during his time as president of Sealaska was bringing together regional corporation leadership to negotiate a settlement of Section 7(i), which was the sharing portion of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. His leadership will be missed and I would like to extend my condolences to his wife Toni and his family during their time of sorrow. I will miss his friendly attitude that enabled him to work to solve many problems that faced Alaska Natives and the citizens of the state of Alaska.”

Governor Mike Dunleavy: “The first lady and myself want to extend our condolences to the Mallott family during this time of great personal loss. It didn’t matter if it was in the Native community, the business sector or public office — Byron was a leader who worked to improve our state for the people of Alaska.”

Former Governor Bill Walker: “Today I lost a dear friend whose love for Alaska and Alaskans knew no bounds. Byron and I shared the belief that if Alaskans pulled together on the same end of the rope despite political, racial, and economic differences, a stronger, more unified Alaska would emerge. We started out as rivals and soon became close friends. We always greeted one another with a hug, just as we would greet brothers or sons. I will miss that.

The Mallott and Walker families became as one with many shared memories. Toni and family, our hearts are breaking with yours. The most comforting words Donna and I have received today came from our daughter-in-law, Sabrina, who like Byron, is Tlingit. The imagery is so fitting for Byron. Sabrina wrote:

‘The Tlingit people always say when loved ones pass that ‘they walked into the forest.’ I pray he walked peacefully and softly during his journey into the next world.’ This too is our prayer. Farewell, my friend.”

Former Governor Tony Knowles: “Byron Mallott was a great Alaskan leader with a lifelong dedication to public service. With his courage, his strength, and his ideals, he will be a continuing mentor in the hearts and minds of Alaskans today and for many future generations. I was privileged to work with Byron and to know him as a dear friend. Ḵusax̱án een.

Former Governor Bill Sheffield: “I join Alaskans in mourning a great loss to our state with the passing of Byron Mallott. He was a leader, public servant, friend, and advisor and will be missed by many.”

Representative Andi Story: “I am remembering Byron Mallott today. My heart goes out to the whole Mallott family and all those close to him. Byron spent so much of his life working hard to make Alaska the best it can be. We’re so grateful for his work. I had many conversations with him about the importance of education and always appreciated his support for the education of our youth.”

A Tribute to Byron from Longtime Friends and Colleagues

Brad Tilden, CEO Alaska Airlines

Nainoa Thompson, President of the Polynesian Voyaging Society

Byron I. Mallott never forgot his roots. In spite of the boarding school repression he and others suffered, he honored his Tlingit heritage all the way to the end. I first met Byron at our first meeting of what became the Alaska Federation of Natives in October of 1966. I had just been elected to the state House of Representatives and Byron was then working for the Local Affairs Agency under Gov. Bill Egan. When we introduced ourselves, he said he represented the state so we threw him out of the meeting! We didn’t want the state to know what our land claims strategy was going to be. As it turned out, he also represented the Five Chiefs of Yakutat and we later admitted him. We always laughed about that.

His contributions to Alaska Natives and the state are enormous. As executive director of RurAL Cap, he helped to secure 18,000 Native allotments by helping individuals navigate the paperwork process with his staff. Later he served as the first commissioner of the state Department of Community and Regional Affairs and later as executive director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation.

He not only served as president and CEO of Sealaska Corporation, he also served on the Federal Reserve Board, Seattle branch, and as a member of the board of directors of Alaska Air Group. He served as president of AFN and was instrumental in helping to resolve the thorny ANCSA Section 7(i) revenue sharing formula that was tearing the Native community apart. Lawyers were dismissed and under Byron’s leadership, we resolved the issue.

As lieutenant governor, he helped steer the state into looking for ways to work with the tribes in Alaska — a major accomplishment. He was a wonderful family man, loved boats and flying. He was a wonderful orator and a friend to many across the state. You will be missed my friend.

Willie Iggiagruk Hensley

THOUGHTS AND THANKS FROM THE COMMUNITY

Jason Metrokin, President & CEO, Bristol Bay Native Corporation: “I first met Byron when I worked up the courage to contact him out of the blue.  I was working for National Bank of Alaska and had recently returned home to Anchorage, after working in Ketchikan and SE Alaska for several years. I was in year two of Alaska Humanities Forum’s Leadership Anchorage, and I was instructed to find a mentor for the program. I was always intrigued by Byron, as a former CEO of Sealaska, former mayor of Yakutat, entrepreneur, public servant, director of countless boards, and champion of Alaska Native rights and responsibilities — among many other things. The problem was, I really didn’t know him and wasn’t sure if he would accept my request to become a mentee. As it turns out, he accepted and it was the first time he or I had been in a formal mentor/mentee relationship — signed paperwork and all. He called me often and invited me to several meetings and seminars. I learned many lessons from Byron. 

I left National Bank of Alaska to work for Byron at First Alaskans Institute. He was a supportive boss and loved to throw people in the deep end of the pool.  Byron was so well connected and he knew everyone! Walking down a hall with Byron can take an hour. I appreciated his willingness to hear what I thought and he encouraged people to speak their minds. Board meetings at FAI were like a master’s degree class in Native history. It was not easy to get to know Byron personally but once he allowed you in, you were in.

There is a perspective of Byron’s that served as a lesson that resonated with me then, and is still very true today. Over time, Alaska Native people have been slaughtered, persecuted, stepped on, spat on, taken from their homes, assimilated, mistreated and set aside. Yet, we should never assume the role of the victim. As soon as we become just the victim, we have lost. Alaska Native people must rise up, demand a seat at the table and carve out our own future; based on what is right and what has been earned. Byron always spoke of the past but had a very real and strong sense of the future. He instilled passion and belief into a number of young, Alaska Native men and women. He had a vision. He had a sense of purpose. He wasn’t afraid of telling people what he thought — when so many others didn’t have the courage to speak up. Byron was the Native people’s champion.

Byron and Toni invited my family for a visit in Yakutat a few summers ago. We hiked, fished, picked berries, told stories and spoke about the future. He opened his heart and his home. I will never forget his friendship. My heart goes out to Toni, Anthony and Mandy, Ben, and other children and grandchildren and their extended families — so many of whom I never had the pleasure of meeting. His legacy will live on for his family and all Alaskans and Alaska Natives alike.”

Richard Peterson, President, Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska: “Byron Mallott was a giant among giants. His legacy will be looked upon for generations as one that uplifted not only our Tlingit and Haida people, but all Alaska Natives. Byron expected the best of us as he was always able to see the best in us. He will be missed and is already greatly missed. My life, like all of those he knew, is far richer because of his belief in us, because he invested in us.”

 

 

Julie Kitka, President, Alaska Federation of Natives: “On behalf of the Alaska Federation of Natives, we offer our sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Byron Mallott — a proud Tlingit clan leader and a giant within the Native community — who recently passed. His accomplishments were many and real over decades, and his love for Alaska Native people from every corner of the state was real and enduring.

Bryon was a passionate person, whether in his pride and hopes for his children and grandchildren or in his desire for Native people to reclaim their rightful place in a world free of racism, bigotry or injustice. His interests were wide. His efforts driven with a sense of urgency that time was not to be wasted. Byron put his heart and soul into anything he spent time on — whether seeking a fair and just land claims or being a founder of the Alaska Federation of Natives as a unifying force to strongly advocate for increased opportunities and a solid legal footing for our future.

He had an unbridled curiosity and always sought out new ideas and people of character no matter who they were. His impatience sometimes caused grief, but he always tried to use his efforts to empower people to think bigger, work harder, and accomplish their dreams. He believed in the power everyone had within themselves and truly delighted in seeing young people confident enough to rise to their God-given abilities. He will be missed by many.”

Rosita Yeidiklasókw, Kaa háni Worl, President, Sealaska Heritage Institute: “True to his Tlingit name K’oo del ta’ — Man Who Leads Us Into a New World — Byron was a noble leader who led us into a new era while living by the ancient teachings to be fearless in fighting for our rights.”  

Michelle Anderson, President, Ahtna, Inc.: “We have lost a legendary leader in the Alaska Native community and someone who inspired me at an early age to work for my people. Byron and Toni are well known and beloved in the Ahtna region. He often spoke of the historical relationship between the Yakutat and Copper River peoples. When we celebrated and when we grieved, he and Toni would come and be with us. We send our love and prayers for comfort to Toni, their children and grandchildren and thank you for allowing him to do the work he did for all of us. While I am thankful that I saw and heard a leader like Byron speak about Native issues, that’s not all he was about. He took a global approach to solving problems and navigated successfully between Native, public and private sectors. One of the last speeches I heard him speak at a tribal event, he told the crowd, “You say you’re sovereign, you want to be recognized as sovereign; then BE sovereign! Stop asking for permission!” It was like a lightning bolt hit the room. That’s the powerful and inspirational speaker he was.

Rick Harris: “I worked for and with Byron for more than 30 years while he  was Sealaska’s President, CEO and as a directors. I have  huge respect for Byron, his intellect, strategic vision, sense of justice, passion for Native people and the environment, and willingness to make some VERY hard decisions needed to lead  Sealaska through the challenges of standing up and operating an ANCSA corporation; a demand that that had no precedent or guide book to success.  All of his contributions furthering Native peoples rights, culture and economic vitality in Southeast, across Alaska and even Nationally will never really be known or appreciated.” 

Gunalchéesh, Byron.
For your wisdom, leadership and vision.