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Sealaska president urges unity in development of Southeast resources

McNeil featured at SHI brown bag lecture series

Posted: November 22, 2011 - 1:01am
Chris McNeil, president and CEO of Sealaska Corporation, gives a talk titled "The Legal Status of Alaska Native Corporations and Economic Self Determination" during Monday's brown bag lecture series to celebrate Native American Heritage Month. The program is sponsored by the Sealaska Heritage Institute with lectures scheduled through November.  Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Chris McNeil, president and CEO of Sealaska Corporation, gives a talk titled "The Legal Status of Alaska Native Corporations and Economic Self Determination" during Monday's brown bag lecture series to celebrate Native American Heritage Month. The program is sponsored by the Sealaska Heritage Institute with lectures scheduled through November.

Sealaska Corp. President and CEO Chris McNeil told a full house in Sealaska’s fourth floor conference room that Native corporations, tribes and villages must work together to manage the use of the region’s natural resources over the long term.

McNeil spoke on the legal status of Alaska Native corporations and economic self-determination during the latest in Sealaska Heritage Institute’s noon lecture series, presented to celebrate Native American Heritage Month. The brown-bag lunch series focuses on the impact of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

McNeil’s take home lesson was similar to last week’s lecture speaker, Edward Thomas, president, Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indians of Alaska, in that Native corporations and tribes or villages could benefit from working together.

“We need a high level of collaboration between Sealaska and village corporations as timber owners and land owners ... to manage the use of land over time,” McNeil said.

And the federal government allows for such collaborations, he said.

Lecture attendees filled a dozen seats around a large wooden table and an outer ring of chairs silhouetted in windows with a view of downtown Juneau.

McNeil has served as president and CEO of Sealaska Corp. since 2001. He said the U.S. Constitution authorizes relationships between tribes and Native corporations. And there are several existing alternatives to Native reservations, such as Alaska’s route and, McNeil said, pueblos.

“So we have a lot of flexibility in how we want to start that relationship,” McNeil said.

McNeil said some U.S. tribes are attempting promising new ideas, such as foreign manufacturing on Native land.

McNeil said his corporation’s ability to work with the federal government has been a boon.

“8(a) was the hook,” McNeil said, referring to the Small Business Administration program that provides federal contract set asides. Currently five Sealaska subsidiaries qualify as 8(a) companies. “What it did was it also included us in the policy of self-determination of 1975. We were included as tribes. An enormous amount of economic good has been accomplished because of that. That set the whole pattern, that was the template,” McNeil said.

McNeil is Tlingit and a member of the Nisga’a Nation. He is Eagle Daklaweidi — Killerwhale — House and his Tlingit name is Shaakakóoni.

Originally from Juneau, he has worked for Sealaska since 1978, holding various positions, including two terms as executive vice president and general counsel and one term on the board of directors.

“As Natives, we understand that a forest is a unified community, a complex system that is greater than the sum of its parts. The same is true for the human community of Southeast Alaska. Together, we can produce something far better than what we are doing separately,” according to McNeil’s Sealaska bio.

Prior to 2001, McNeil was the Washington representative and counsel to the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation in Connecticut, chairman of the Native American Rights Fund, director of American Indian Programs at Stanford University, director of Goldbelt, Inc., director of the American Indian National Bank, president of the Juneau Tlingit and Haida Community Council, chairman of the Tlingit and Haida Regional Housing Authority and second vice president of the Tlingit and Haida Indians of Alaska.

Chris earned a law degree from Stanford University, a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Stanford University and a master’s in political science from Yale University.

Jane Ginter, a self-proclaimed retired Juneau resident, said she has attended all of the lectures so far and plans to attend the final lecture next week. It’s like continuing education, Ginter said.

“I’m recently retired and I‘m just interested in learning all I can,” said. Ginter said she has learned a lot, and even takes unfamiliar terms home to research on the Internet.

Next week, Sealaska will present “ANCSA: A Path to Assimilation or Cultural Survival” by Rosita Worl, president of the Sealaska Heritage Institute.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a regional nonprofit representing the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people of Southeast Alaska. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures.

The lecture series is sponsored by Sealaska Heritage Institute, MRV Architects, McDowell Group and Kathy Ruddy of Juneau. The hour-long lectures are held in the fourth floor conference room at Sealaska Plaza in Juneau.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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