Remembering John Borbridge Jr

During a passionate speech on October 3, 1969, John Borbridge Jr. said, “The time for a just and equitable settlement is now. The issue can no longer be deferred and the Natives will not be ignored. The Alaska Natives seek justice and not charity. They do not ask to be given lands, but they ask for the right to retain a portion of that which belongs to them.” 

On May 10, 2016, the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people lost a great leader as John Borbridge Jr. walked into the forest

"Many will remember John Borbridge Jr. as Native leader who led us through some historic transitions. I would like people to remember that his early adult life began with a university education and a career as a secondary teacher and basketball coach."

---Joe Nelson, Sealaska Chair

John Borbridge Jr. held many significant roles for our people before, during and after the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971. He was the first president and chair of the board of directors for Sealaska from 1972 to 1978. The success Sealaska enjoys today began with many difficult decisions and obstacles faced by Borbridge during Sealaska’s inception.

“The passing of John Borbridge is like another era leaving us. I really got to know him during the 1991 Amendments and a part of the Sealaska Shareholder committee. His passion for Sealaska and our tribe never ceased. I was so honored when he asked me to co-teach with him a class on ANCSA, he had insights you could never read in a book. His cheerful smile and knowledge will be missed,”

---Jackie Pata, Sealaska Vice Chair

One of the great challenges Borbridge encountered in those early years was the land selection process under ANCSA. He was instrumental in passing legislation in 1976, which enabled Sealaska to select lands from within the Tongass National Forest. This act was fundamental for Sealaska to retain valuable land within its traditional homelands.

John Borbridge Jr. was a powerful and authentic voice… A voice that called Congress to action… A voice for his people and a voice that will never be forgotten.

“John was a powerful voice for not only Southeast Natives, but all Natives across Alaska.”

--- Rosita Worl, Sealaska Director

"John was a fierce negotiator and had a personality and intellect to sway people to his position. Under John’s leadership, Sealaska's land ownership improved significantly from what could have been.  This single accomplishment out of so many, has made Sealaska a stronger organization.

---Anthony Mallott, Sealaska President and CEO

John Borbridge Contributions

  • Served as president of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska  in 1967 as the first full-time president
  • Played an important role in the implementation and management of the Southeast Alaska Bureau of Indian Affairs Buy Indian Act
  • Instrumental in efforts to settle the Alaska Native Land Claims, serving as chief lobbyist for Southeast Alaska
  • Appointed to Land Claims Task Force by former Alaska Governor Walter Hickel which led to the inclusion of Southeast Alaska in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act
  • Appointed as a commissioner on the American Indian Policy Review Commission from 1975 to 1977
  • Received a presidential appointment to serve at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe
  • Alaska Federation of Natives board chair and AFN Vice President
  • Presented an honorary doctorate of laws degree in 2012 from the University of Alaska Southeast

Borbridge was born in Juneau, Alaska. He was Tlingit, Raven, L’uknax.ádi, Coho Clan from the Frog House and Wooshkeetaan yádi. His Tlingit name was Duk saa.aat’.


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