The Sealaska Heritage Institute broke ground Thursday at the site of the planned Walter Soboleff Cultural Center with a ceremony in celebration of the center’s namesake.
“I think it is so fitting that this is named for Dr. Walter Soboleff,” Chris McNeil, Sealaska CEO, said while adding that it embodies everything he stood for.
Soboleff, a respected elder and leader in the Tlingit community and Southeast Alaska in general, “walked into the forest” in May of 2011 at age 102.
“We wanted to be here, because we love and respect Dr. Walter Soboleff so much. We’re very honored to support the Walter Soboleff Center,” said first lady Sandy Parnell, speaking for the governor who stood at her side but had laryngitis. “What a wonderful way to celebrate Dr. Soboleff’s life among us and our memories of him.”
The center will be a modern cultural and heritage center. Construction will last about two years, with MRV Architects and Dawson Construction working on the site located downtown between Shattuck Way, South Seward and Front Streets.
“The Walter Soboleff Center will be a signature building in the capital and the heartbeat of this community. The center will share the vision of learning, celebrating and preserving native traditions and ceremonies,” Parnell said. “A building that stands, like doctor Soboleff stands in our hearts and memories as a bridge between cultures, a building whose purpose will be for the benefit of all.”
Juneau delegation, Assembly members, tribe leaders and elders were in attendance at Thursday’s ceremony.
“Today we start coming up out of the ground with the vision that has been worked on for many years and by many people,” Mayor Merrill Sanford said. “Envisioning our future through the reflections of our past is absolutely right on target.”
With ground now broken, Byron Mallott, Chair of SHI’s Capital Campaign Committee, said that the project moves forward while continuing to seek the remaining $4 million in funding.
“We do have a job before us. (Donors) graciously have contributed their time and effort to continue the fundraising efforts to make this building a reality,” Mallott said. “We really want you to contribute. We want this building to belong to all of us.”
• Contact reporter Kenneth Rosen at 523-2250 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.