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Traditional Tlingit Law & Governance and Contemporary Sealaska Corporate Governance: 4 Core Values and a Jurisprudence of Transformation

Micah McNeil

In this paper I discuss the traditional Tlingit law and governance at the initial time of contact with Europeans. I then discuss the transitionary period between the traditional Tlingit law and governance of the Tlingit Nation to the birth of the Sealaska Corporation through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA).  Sealaska is an Alaska Native Regional Corporation comprised of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Nations. I give an overview of the contemporary governance of Sealaska Corporation. I then discuss how Tlingit law and values are still being applied by the Tlingit people through the Sealaska Corporation. I did so in this article by reviewing the four core Tlingit values of Haa Aaní (Our Land), Haa Latseen (Our Strength & Leadership), Haa Shuká (Past, Present, and Future Generations), and Wooch.Yax (Balance) and how the Sealaska Corporation is incorporating them today. These values and protocols have officially been embraced and incorporated into the Code of Ethics by Sealaska. However, before this, they were practiced and in operation largely through performance law.

I also compared the Tlingit clan governance structure with the current Sealaska corporate governance model and discussed the similarities and differences between the two. Sealaska’s corporate governance structures bears a number of striking parallels to the ancient Tlingit clan structure.  However, there have been changes brought about by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, including the transfer of land from the clans to Sealaska and the Native and Village Corporations.  Historically, the Tlingit form of governance was centralized in the clan. Yet, because of the large number of clans in the various Tlingit regions – or kwaans – it created in the aggregate a decentralized form of governance. Today the governance of the Tlingit has transitioned to a regional form of governance through Sealaska and the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indians (CCTHITA). However, similar to the ancient clan structure, the Tlingit also maintain a decentralized form of governance through Sealaska, the various Native village and urban corporations, as well as the organizations Sealaska is associated with. 

In conclusion I discuss the differences between the historic Tlingit clan structure and the Sealaska corporation. As part of this analysis, I discuss various contemporary issues that still need resolution for the Tlingit and Alaska Natives. In particular I focus on land claims, sovereignty, subsistence rights, blood quantum and Native leadership development and employment.  I then give a number of recommendations on how these issues might be addressed and resolved.

By Tribal Law Journal Blog

The Tribal Law Journal was established in fall 1998 for the purpose of promoting indigenous self-determination by facilitating discussion of the internal law of the world’s indigenous nations. The internal law of indigenous nations encompasses traditional law, western law adopted by indigenous nations, and a blend of western and indigenous law. Underscoring this purpose is the recognition that traditional law is a source of law.

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