Tlingit & Haida receives $100,000 in reparations towards community healing

Photo provided by Tlingit & Haida

Juneau, Alaska (KINY) – The Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska has received $100,000 from Kuneix Hídi Northern Light United Church (KHNLUC) congregation of Juneau, AK. The Native Ministries Committee presented the donation on day one of the 89th Tribal Assembly. 

The donation is to help support and uplift healing programs within the Community & Behavioral Services Healing Center. The funds are part of a commitment of $1 million in reparations from the congregation to repair the harm and pain the Juneau community experienced at the racist closure, more than 60 years ago, of the once predominantly Tlingit church. 

President Chalyee Éesh Richard Peterson worked with the KHNLUC in fulfilling a formal apology to the family of Rev. Dr. Walter Soboleff, former members of Memorial Presbyterian Church and the Tlingit people, for the devastating closure of the Memorial Presbyterian Church. The Presbyterian Church (USA), Northwest Coast Presbytery and Kunéix Hídi Northern Light United Church delivered the formal apology on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, October 9, 2023. 

Rev. Dr. Walter Soboleff, Tlingit of the Raven, L’eeneidí clan, was one of the first Alaska Native ordained ministers and began his calling as a beloved pastor at the age of 32 in 1940 at the Memorial Presbyterian Church. At the time, only two Presbyterian churches existed in Juneau: a Native and a non-Native one, the latter named Northern Light. Upon the abrupt closure of the Memorial church in favor of the non-Native congregation, he urged members to join Northern Light, despite not being consulted on the closure or offered a pastor position. Only a few made the move, many ceasing their affiliation with ministry. 

It would take decades before any wrongdoings were publicly acknowledged, and the Native Ministries Committee of the KHNLUC was formed to guide the denomination to start to reconcile and recognize the harm done to Indigenous peoples by organized religion. Part of their work included drafting and adopting the Overture to include reparations. Tribal citizen Barbara Searls, Chair of the Native Ministries Committee, shared their mission of, “celebrating and sharing the ministry, healing, unity, diversity, music, and languages of Alaska’s First People.”  Dr. Tina Woods, Sr. Director of Community and Behavioral Services, was present to accept the donation on behalf of Tlingit & Haida. She expressed gratitude and the power of healing wounds of those who experienced trauma, “when you heal yourself, it’s infectious energy around you, it’s healing those around you.”