Earlier this year, Sealaska marked an important milestone in its growth and development as a company – following the board election this spring, our board is now majority female, with seven of 13 members who are women.
Balance and reciprocity are important values we hold as Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people, and they’re part of our company values at Sealaska, too. Our cultures are matrilineal, and we have always recognized and honored the power and strength of women. It is natural and appropriate that this is reflected by the composition of our board.
It seemed fitting to end this week during which we’ve held up and honored our women to conclude by asking our female board members to tell us about the women who inspired them. Please read on to hear their tributes in their own words:
X’eishx’u.eh (Barbara Cadiente-Nelson)
"Jigeitla ka Junaak Tla, Irene Cadiente, Teikweidi Brown Bear, is the most influential woman in my life. Her grandparents William George and Kaswoot survived the 1882 U.S. Navy’s bombing of Angoon; her parents John and Ann Hunter were young children following the bombing and reconstruction of Angoon. Jigeitla was a baby when her village, Killisnoo, burned down in 1928. Her father died in 1930, and Jigeitla was eight when sent to Skagway Mission School where she endured homesickness and punishment for speaking Lingit to her classmates. Her tenacity and resilience despite personal and historical tragedies continues to influence me today."
GunnaShaa (Karen Taug)
“The woman who stands out as the most inspirational is my Grandmother, Lena Brown. Lena was an amazing woman who was kind, strong, determined and an avid subsistence gatherer. In a time when it was hard for women to succeed, she was successful in her job at the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and showed by example a good work ethic. Lena would get up early and fish on her cabin cruiser for 3 hours before going to work at 8am. Lena balanced work and family in her daily life. Family was everything and she looked forward to adventures with her daughters, son and grandchildren.”
Ka'illijuus (Lisa Lang)
“Her English name was Helen Sanderson. She was my maternal grandmother. Her Haida name, which I carry, is Ka’illjuus. She was the matriarch of our clan, the Yahgw Janáas, or women of the Yahgw ‘Láanas clan. We are Haida Raven, Double Fin Killer Whale clan, from Hydaburg, Alaska. She taught me enduring matriarchal lessons which I carry today. First, to always remember because of her great love for me that there was nothing I could not accomplish. Second, to carry myself with respect, dignity and humility at all times. Third, that to honor our clan values is to excel or “do things right” in all our actions. Her greatest contribution was teaching me compassion for our community and to anyone in their time of need. To give without anyone knowing, to use education as leverage to help others and to always live in spiritual gratitude… these were more lessons that she taught through her constant example and service. Her matriarchal presence taught me strength, endurance and non-ego based pride and humility. She is the reason I have found what I term success in my professional life and remains a guide for success in all other aspects of my life.”
Tseiltin (Jodi Mitchell)
“Here are three women who most inspired me over my career so far. The most influential has to be my mother, the late Eleanor John-David. She was a fierce fighter for shareholder rights in support of a better, more profitable Sealaska. She worked hard during election time, working to make change on the Board. She believed in ANCSA and what it could bring to our people, and never gave up in her fight to bring good leaders to the Board. She pushed me to become involved from a young age, and never let me even THINK I had a choice about whether or not to go to college! I often think about how hard it must’ve been for her to push me out of the nest at the young age of 17. But, I’m extremely grateful for her strength, and it has carried me to where I am today. “Another influential woman in my life was my paternal grandmother, the late Bessie Eames. She was a woman ahead of her time in many ways being born in 1912. She was well-read, valedictorian of her class, and a strong family woman. She worked a full-time job and did the bookkeeping for my Grandpa Don’s business (he owned a gas station in Blaine, WA). She kept our family together by having all of us over to their house for holidays and birthday parties. She was a good seamstress – made clothes for me and my siblings. “Finally, my late grandmother, the late Elsie John, was a huge influence on me. She was a strong woman, and always had a big smile and hug for me when I saw her. She sold Avon products, and worked in the canneries to help provide for her large family. She taught me to smile and be personable with all people. She had a cute laugh and giggle, which was very contagious! She taught me to bake for my grandpa, daddy, and uncles when they came home from fishing. She was a strong woman, raising 10 children (and she lost two) over her lifetime. She had a huge heart for her family and extended family, and was a strong Christian.”
‘Wáahlaal Gidáak (Barbara Blake)
“Sandra Demmert, my mother, will always be my hero. I wouldn’t be where I’m at if she hadn’t been there as a guide and fierce protector. I’m grateful to her for breaking the cycle of addiction and centering our Native values and culture in my life. She pushed me toward leadership by seeing in me what I was unable to see in myself. She was unwilling to let me settle for less than what she knew my future was worth. Her love overflows in me with the care and fierceness I’m able to put into my contribution to our communities.”
Saa Doo ou (Dr. Angela Michaud)
“The most inspirational woman in my career is Dr. Katherine Gottlieb. She stood for having good, healthy Alaska Native families. She shares compassion for those who are struggling with previous traumas and addictions. She made it safe for people to share their stories and start their healing journey. She continues to encourage me to be and give more to our people. She encouraged me to run for the Sealaska Board. She would say, ‘Angela, your people need you as a leader.’ She was always raising up leaders around her, men and women. She would say, ‘Come take my job.’ That is true leadership. Knowing that you have trained those who work for you well enough that you are confident that when you are not there anymore someone will be able to step up in that place and continue to lead.”
Ch’aak’Tlaa (Nicole Hallingstad)
“The most inspirational woman in my career has been my Tlingit grandmother, Amy Yax Yeidi Hallingstad. She was Eagle Killerwhale, and a fierce champion for Alaska Native rights from the 1920s into the 1970s. She fought for equality of Native rights, labor, education, and basic dignity. She never gave up.
Her hard work and legacy influences my career of service to Native communities to this day. She is the source of much of my own strength and inspiration.”