Hearts are heavy at Sealaska after the passing of Sealaska director Albert Kookesh, Tlingit leader, former senator, business owner and fierce advocate for Alaska Natives. Albert died at his home in Angoon, surrounded by family, his children and grandchildren.
“Today, we mourn the loss of a colleague, a friend, a champion of Alaska Native people,” said Sealaska Chair Joe Nelson. “Although the void felt at Sealaska will be profound, we can all celebrate a life well-lived – a life of public service. Albert made a lasting impression. We will all miss him.”
The enduring benefits of Albert’s work on behalf of Alaska Natives will be felt for generations.
“No one even knows everything Albert has done for his community and shareholders,” said Sealaska President and CEO Anthony Mallott. “He’s dedicated his whole life to serving his home village of Angoon and the entire region, and he never missed an opportunity to get something more for our region. Throughout his 45 years of service, he was a source of reflection for Sealaska that we are only in existence because our people have lived in our communities for 10,000 years and could therefore make a claim to land rights. Albert never let us forget that.”
His most significant achievements for Sealaska included adding descendant stock and finalizing Sealaska’s last remaining acreage under ANCSA, Nelson said.
Albert had a long and distinguished career, most recently serving as the former policy and program specialist at the Office of the Governor for the State of Alaska. He was a former senator for District C and served in the Alaska State legislature, both House and Senate, for 16 years. He served for many years as AFN chair, ANB Grand Camp President, a member of the Alaska Native Brotherhood Grand Camp executive committee, and as a trustee of First Alaskans Institute.
He joined the Sealaska Board of Directors in 1976, when the Alaska Native Corporation was in its early years and he wasn’t yet 30 years old. Albert served as Sealaska board chair, as well as serving as a member of the Shareholder Relations Committee and the Haa Aaní, LLC Board of Managers.
“One of his greatest contributions to Sealaska and its shareholders was the fact that he was present at the first Sealaska Elders Conference in 1980,” said Sealaska Director Barbara Cadiente-Nelson. “The meeting resulted in a text called ‘Because We Cherish You,’ and laid out the Elders’ vision for the preservation of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian languages and culture. He processed the important directives conveyed by the Elders present at the conference and helped to establish Sealaska Heritage Institute in their vision. He was instrumental in addressing the feared cultural poverty among us – the policies and practices that were enacted to separate us from place. Albert has always been an advocate for his community and its traditions.”
As a Trustee of the Sealaska Heritage Institute Board, Albert oversaw the expansion of the scholarship program and the revitalization of Southeast Alaska Native language and culture. His leadership was instrumental in launching Celebration, a biennial four-day summer festival during which thousands embrace traditional regalia, song, dance, art, food and language.
As Sealaska’s representative to the Alaska Federation of Natives, Albert advanced public policies establishing subsistence fishing rights that sustain a way of life for many residents of Southeast Alaska.
“He hunted and fished pretty much his whole life, which I think is meaningful,” Nelson said. “He practiced our way of life and that’s key to protecting our way of life. You can advocate for a way of life more meaningfully when you’re practicing it.”
Albert was Tlingit, Eagle/Teikweidí (Brown Bear clan).Sealaska sends condolences to Albert’s clan and family. He is survived by his wife, Sally, and his children, Elaine (Kookesh) Jack, Reanna Kookesh-Booth, Albert Kookesh III, Walter Kookesh, and Sealaska Vice President Jaeleen Kookesh. He is also survived by many grandchildren and brothers and sisters.