DANSRD staff, students and faculty, were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Senator Albert Kookesh. We extend our condolences to his family and to the communities of Angoon, and Manley Hot Springs where his wife of 51 years, Sally Marie Woods is from.
Senator Kookesh was born in Juneau in 1948. Senator Kookesh was Eagle of the Teikweidí (Brown Bear) clan, Child of the L’eeneidí (Dog Salmon) clan. His Tlingit name was Kaasháan, and he also had the name Yikdahéen. He was a 1967 graduate of Mt. Edgecumbe High School, earned his undergraduate degree in 1972 from Alaska Methodist University (now Alaska Pacific University) and his Juris Doctorate from the University of Washington School of Law in 1977.
Senator Kookesh served in the Alaska House of Representatives from 1997 to 2004 and the Alaska State Senate from 2004 to 2012. His life time of exemplary public service included over 40 years on the Sealaska Corporation Board of Directors, 16 years as co-chair on the Alaska Federation of Natives Board, leadership positions in the Alaska Native Brotherhood, First Alaskans Institute, and work in the Knowles and Walker administrations and much more.
Senator Kookesh provided valuable mentorship to a number of Rural Development students over the years including Barbara Blake, Veronica Slajer and Nancy Barnes. He was generous with his wisdom and once braved the difficulties of parking at the Brooks Building and navigation of snow and icy walkways to deliver a wonderful guest lecture on subsistence law to the ANS 425 Federal Indian Law class. His advice at the time, to keep a close eye on water law and water rights in Alaska is being followed to this day.
Senator Kookesh stayed close to his roots in Southeast and when the time came to defend subsistence fishing rights in court he stepped up to the plate and took his case all the way to the Alaska Supreme Court. In his own words from the Salmon and Society Meeting in 2016:
“I didn’t do it to break the law. I didn’t do it to offend anybody. I did it to challenge that premise, 15 fish per family per year…that is one and a half fish a month, or less…Let me see any of you try and live the life of a whole salmon season, a whole winter on 15 fish. Especially if you have a family of ten or five…I wanted to challenge that forever…The progress of an Alaska Native in Alaska can be measured by our success in the courts. Nobody ever gave us anything. We had to sue for it…I hope you can understand as to why I challenged it. I thought that wasn’t fair. I thought it was not right. I feel, being a senator and former representative of the house, that laws are going to continue to evolve in Alaska. Everything you all do, everything we all do collectively is going to help get us to a place where we want to be eventually, especially when it comes to our salmon. So, these kinds of cases aren’t mean cases, they are trying to develop the law to where it should be.”
Let us honor this warrior and his family by remembering his words and carrying on his work in law and policy!