Letter from Sealaska Chair Joe Nelson

Sealaska Chair Joe Nelson

These are extraordinary times, as we hunker down across the globe. Extraordinary, but not unprecedented. One hundred years ago, a flu pandemic swept the globe taking up to 50 million lives, including many lives in Alaska. But as indigenous people, we are survivors.

“Social distancing” is not our thing. As a collectivist people, we live and socialize in multi-generational groups at a higher rate than most in the western world. But our community leaders can and should encourage people to do the right thing, even when it is painful and difficult.  

For the sake of our Elders. For the sake of our health care providers. For the sake of our children. We encourage you to take transmission reduction measures seriously. Stay at home. Put the gadgets down. Spend quality time with your family. Tackle the chores you have been neglecting. Find safe ways to help others.

Perhaps most important, find ways to take care of yourselves as you hunker down—strengthen yourself mentally, physically, and spiritually. There will be plenty of work ahead as we come out of this slow down.

There will no doubt be a huge economic toll because of the dramatic measures that are being taken now. To that end, Sealaska’s board of directors has approved a $1 million COVID-19 relief and recovery package to help Alaska Native communities respond to the impact from the coronavirus. This pledge provides emergency response funding for several nonprofit organizations delivering urgent recovery services. There will be lives lost, possibly as a result of the measures that we are not taking. But we have ancient knowledge, experience, and values to guide us through this difficult moment.

Like every other cycle, there will be a rebuilding phase. We will recover. The berries will come back. That is why we make jam to help get us through the winter.

At Sealaska, we are moving forward but just like everyone else, we are doing things a bit differently in these uncertain times. Our offices are currently closed to the public but you can take care of most business by email, phone, or through the MySealaska portal.

We will support our communities in the coming weeks and months. This work has already started. The spring distribution was made ahead of schedule on March 31st to provide relief to our shareholders. The board recently authorized contributions to the Food Bank of Alaska and Southeast Alaska Food Bank to support immediate needs in our traditional communities.

We will continue working with Sealaska Heritage Institute, Spruce Root, and community partners to find ways to help where we can. We will get through this together. 

Every day is a gift.  Make the best of today.

Kaaxúxgu | Joe Nelson
Chairman Sealaska