A letter from Sealaska Chair Joe Nelson discussing the 2018 Celebration theme “Respect: Weigh Your Words”

Joe Nelson, Sealaska Board Chair

For decades, we have been coming together every other year during Celebration – as Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people.  It is a beautiful thing.  

Over the years, much has changed, and yet, much has stayed the same.  Technology changes every few months.   Leaders change every few decades.  We have made progress in some areas.  We have regressed in others.  Many of the challenges that we face are the same as they were forty years ago.

I often wonder how this can be when we have so many organizations and leaders working to improve our situation every day.  Our municipalities, our schools, our healthcare organizations, our cultural organizations, our tribes, and our corporations are all led by people who see themselves contributing to the betterment of our people.  With all of these people doing good things, why is it that so many of our communities are virtually in crisis year after year?  

I believe that there is a root cause of most of our challenges: our egos. 

We all have egos.  Our egos keep us from genuinely looking in the mirror.  Our egos keep us from taking responsibility.  Our egos keep us from forgiving others.  Our egos prevent us from truly moving on. 

When we properly manage our ego, we are better able to address the reality of our situation, individually and collectively.  The circumstances around us are not the reason that we cannot succeed.   They are the reality in which we must succeed.  Every one of us is in full control of our own happiness.  

The Celebration theme Respect can be the impetus for a revolution.  The day we truly start lifting each other up and stop acting like crabs in a bucket, is the same day that we start solving some of the difficult problems we face.  

In light of our current political climate, the theme Respect: Weigh Your Words, is, no doubt, timely.

Individually, the amount of impact we can each exert over complex situations is limited.  However, collectively, we can – we must – make a conscious effort to be the change we seek. 

Respect is not always knowing right from wrong; it is having the courage to make things right when you have done wrong. 

Respect is not demanded from positions of power; it is maintained by ensuring that your actions are aligned with your words. 

Respect will increase when we accept the fact that we are responsible for our own happiness. 

We cannot afford to be pulling each other down.  We cannot afford to focus on the things that divide us.  

Celebration of our collective beauty can and should be a daily practice.  

If every one of us commits taking responsibility for our happiness on a daily basis through self-reflection and respecting each other as real people, we can start a revolution – by celebrating each other.    


Joe Nelson

Sealaska Board Chair