Nov. 14 could become known in Alaska as Walter Soboleff Day. We hope that it is.
Lawmakers on both sides introduced legislation last week that would further cement the late Native elder’s place in history by commemorating the day he was born. It was on Nov. 14, 1908, that we were given Walter Soboleff, and from that day forth Alaska has been better off thanks to the roles he played, big and small.
Soboleff, according to a past interview, didn’t celebrate his birthday growing up. He told the Empire once that his parents would remind him of his birthday each year, but that was all. We have little doubt that if he were alive today, Soboleff wouldn’t want to have a day set aside in his honor. But it’s that kind of selflessness that deserves being honored.
Soboleff was more than a community leader, Native elder, statesman and a spiritual guide; he represented an ideal that all people — regardless of race, culture or creed — could strive to emulate. Until he passed away in 2011 at 102 years old, Soboleff remained an active member of the community; sharing his knowledge and wisdom with whomever was willing to listen while never forcing it on those unwilling to hear.
“The world needs a good philosophy of life,” he once said. “My philosophy of life is tolerance, it doesn’t hurt you.”
We should celebrate Soboleff’s lifelong message of peace and prosperity every year with gatherings, speaking engagements and lessons passed down by the man who never stopped trying to bring our community together as one. We should honor the man who never asked to be honored and, in doing so, keep his message and memory alive and well for the next generation of Alaskans who will never have the opportunity to know Soboleff in the way that many of us did when he was alive.
The greatest lesson Soboleff learned in school, he said, was to “take care of the old person you are going to become.”
Let’s take care of the memory of the person he became by celebrating the first-ever Walter Soboleff Day on Nov. 14, 2014.