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Foundations Direct $2 Million to Southeast Alaska Collaboration
The Hoonah Indian Association created the Hoonah Native Forest Partnership to restore the forest and watershed, gather and share data with land managers, and generate jobs through the Sustainable Southeast Partnership. (Photo by Bethany Goodrich for the Sustainable Southeast Partnership)

A new fund that aims to support a prosperous, post-timber economy in Southeast Alaska has gotten a boost with twin $1 million investments from two private family foundations: Rasmuson Foundation in Alaska and the Edgerton Foundation, based in Los Angeles. The foundations are delighted to announce their partnership in support of the Seacoast Trust endowment, which will be led by Indigenous values for conservation.

The fund will enable the Sustainable Southeast Partnership — an unusual, decade-old collaboration of groups that have often been at odds — to realize potential for transformational change through a new model of stewardship. Tribes, conservation interests, Alaska Native corporations and industry groups are moving past conflict to pursue goals of “collective well-being, sustainable economic prosperity, environmental stewardship, and natural resource management,” according to Seacoast Trust.

Sealaska, the Alaska Native regional corporation for Southeast Alaska, created Seacoast Trust as a permanent funding mechanism for what had been an informal network. Sealaska pledged $10 million in matching funds, and The Nature Conservancy announced its commitment of $7 million in September. The new awards totaling $2 million bring the fund close to its initial goal of $20 million. The long-term vision is a $100 million fund providing capital for a new economy.

Oversight will come from Spruce Root, a Juneau-based, Alaska Native Community Development Financial Institution. The nonprofit launched nearly 10 years ago with support from Sealaska.

Edgerton Foundation, best known for support of the performing arts, began investing in Alaska in 2017 with emphasis on preservation of biodiversity, protection of habitat and sustainable economic development.

The new $1 million award is by far its largest in Alaska and also is an outsized award for Rasmuson Foundation.

“This is an extraordinary project with great leadership,” said Brad Edgerton, who runs the small foundation with his wife, Louise. Alaska leaders Alana Peterson, executive director of Spruce Root, and Ralph Wolfe, who leads the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, are well poised to carry out the work, he said. “These two organizations have been changing the conversation and empowering Native and rural communities in Southeast Alaska for a decade.”

The Trust will fund Southeast Alaska communities for a range of projects and programs that improve lives and create sustainable jobs. Restoration of salmon runs, management of healthy forests, youth projects and food security are among the focus areas.

“We are thrilled to be part of such a well-crafted approach to stewardship and economic development in Southeast Alaska,” said Diane Kaplan, foundation president and CEO. “Strong, local leaders and broad support are key. We are especially delighted to have Edgerton Foundation as a ground-floor partner.”

Examples of projects supported in the past by the Sustainable Southeast Partnership include affordable housing in Yakutat, support for small business entrepreneurs, and an Indigenous guardians program that works with the U.S. Forest Service to manage the Tongass National Forest.

“Sustainable communities make sustainable decisions,” said Sealaska President and CEO Anthony Mallott. “Communities at risk make short-term decisions based on immediate need.”

Mallott continued: “We are incredibly grateful for the support of the Rasmuson and Edgerton foundations to get us so close to our initial funding goal, and so quickly. This support shows a belief in the sustainable economic development approach that we hope will attract other organizations interested in investing in Indigenous-led environmental and community stewardship.”

Learn more about Seacoast trust here:

About Edgerton Foundation

This small family foundation operates with no website and no staff, granting about $6 million a year for major projects in Los Angeles, medical projects, enhanced national security, performing arts and environmental protection. In Alaska, it has granted more than $8 million over the last five years to 23 nonprofit organizations.

About Rasmuson Foundation
The Foundation awards around $25 million to $30 million a year in grants to promote a better life for Alaskans. Main funding areas are human services including projects to address domestic violence, child abuse and services for seniors and people with disabilities; homelessness; health care; the arts; and organizational and community development. The Foundation was created in 1955 by Jenny Rasmuson to honor her late husband E.A. Rasmuson.