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UAS Honors Gordon Jackson at 2021 Virtual Commencement Ceremony, April 30

This year UAS will honor Kaheenaak Gordon L. Jackson with a Meritorious Service Award, presented during the Juneau campus ceremony on Friday, April 30, for his contributions to rural education, health services, and economic development for Alaska Natives, particularly in his home region of Southeast Alaska.

Juneau, Alaska

Date of Press Release: April 5, 2021

Gordon Jackson Portrait
Gordon Jackson Portrait

The University of Alaska Southeast (UAS) uses the occasion of Student Commencement each year to recognize individuals in our community who’ve offered outstanding service to the university, the state of Alaska, or Southeast communities. Meritorious Service Awards are awarded for public and volunteer service to the university or a local community. The UA Board of Regents approves candidates who are nominated by local campuses. This year UAS will honor Kaheenaak Gordon L. Jackson with a Meritorious Service Award, presented during the Juneau campus ceremony on Friday, April 30, for his contributions to rural education, health services, and economic development for Alaska Natives, particularly in his home region of Southeast Alaska.

Kaheenaak is of the Kiks.ádi Raven clan, child of the Kayaasheiditaan yádi Eagle clan, from the Shtax’ Héen Kwáan, the people of the Stikeen River region. He earned an Associates of Art from Sheldon Jackson College, a Bachelor of Arts in Education from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, as well as a Master’s Degree in Rural Development from UAF. Mr. Jackson has held noteworthy positions in Alaska Native organizations, including the Alaska Federation of Natives, Sealaska Heritage Foundation, Kake Tribal Corporation, and Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska.

Gordon Jackson grew up in Kake, attended boarding school, and became a commercial fisherman while pursuing postsecondary studies at Sheldon Jackson College. Early in his professional career, he became Director of the Southeast Alaska Community Action Program and of the Rural Development for the Alaska Department of Community and Regional Affairs in Juneau.

From the mid to late 1970s, Mr. Jackson worked in Anchorage with the Alaska Native Federation in various leadership roles to implement the many programs and initiatives made possible by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which became law 50 years ago on December 18, 1971, including lobbying for the passage of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and the Indian Self-Determination Act.

He was instrumental in changing the Johnson O’Malley Program, which was a contract to the AFN, returning it to the original purpose by funding supplemental and enrichment programs for Alaska Natives. As the Vice President of Alaska Federation of Natives, Gordon worked hard to change the education delivery system in rural Alaska. His success ended the BIA Boarding and State Operated Schools through legislation that created rural high schools with school boards.

In the 1980s, Mr. Jackson returned to Juneau to advocate for the advancement of Tlingit culture as Vice President of Corporate Development for Sealaska Heritage Foundation, and then as the Native Studies Director at Juneau-Douglas High School. In the 1990s, he was elected President and CEO of the Kake Tribal Corporation, demonstrating seasoned leadership in the local development of seafood processing, tourism, and environmental clean up industries. In the 21st century, Mr. Jackson has been the manager or director of various projects for the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska and the University of Alaska Southeast.

“In my long association with Gordon Jackson, which began in the early 1970s, one of his most impressive accomplishments was a land exchange that saved a 2,400 acre watershed from which Kake collects its drinking water,” says Peter Metcalfe, a Juneau-based writer and publisher. “ANCSA land exchanges are not unusual, but the one engineered by Gordon may have been the most complex, involving Kake Tribal Corporation, which he led; reconciling the competing interests of federal and state agencies; garnering the cooperation of the regional environmental advocacy organization, SEACC; and working with the City of Kake, which received the watershed, and SEAL Trust which agreed to manage it. On top of that, Gordon successfully lobbied Congress to make good and financial discrepancies of the exchange, which involved millions of dollars for his corporation.”

Virtual commencements for all three UAS campuses -- Juneau, Ketchikan, and Sitka -- will be available at on April 30 at 5 pm.

Gordon Jackson

Over the course of more than 40 years, Gordon Jackson’s quiet leadership focused on making rural Alaska a better place to live. He has made significant contributions to the betterment of rural education, health services, and economic development for Alaska Natives, particularly in his home region of Southeast Alaska.

Gordon’s input and service on many boards and commissions in Alaska spans decades. He served on the Emergency Rent Review Board during the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. He has served on the boards of directors for numerous organizations including the Alaska Federation of Natives, the Rural Alaska Community Action Program (RurAL CAP), Fred Meyer Savings and Loan, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, and the Alaska Blood Bank. He was a member of the Alaska Bicentennial Commission, the Commission on Postsecondary Education, and the Juneau Planning Commission. He also served on the Executive Committee for Central Council Tlingit Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

After graduating from the university, Gordon began his career as a community organizer for the Rural Alaska Community Action Program (RurAL CAP) in 1969. He helped establish the federal War on Poverty delivery system with the creation of nine non-profit development corporations in rural Alaska. At the time there was no delivery system, which had to be created for programs such as Head Start, Manpower, and others. Gordon trained new non-profit corporation staff and boards of directors, who developed policies for the program.

His advocacy ensured Alaska Native tribes were included in PL93-638, a landmark national policy of Indian self-determination. He pushed a subsistence priority in the Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act, in Title 8 that prioritized rural subsistence on federal land at a time when the state did not. As a community organizer with the Rural Alaska Community Action Program (RurAL CAP), he learned to mobilize human and financial resources to achieve goals and objectives.

Leadership for the Alaska Federation of Natives appointed Gordon to the Rural Alaska Community Action Program Board of Directors. He was elected President and Chairman in 1974, a position he would hold for 14 years, making him the longest serving officer in the agency’s history. Gordon was a strong advocate for rural subsistence and creating programs that would take rural Alaskans out of poverty. RurAL CAP worked tirelessly to expand Head Start, Manpower, alcohol abuse, subsistence, and advocacy. Under Gordon’s leadership the board and staff took the initiative to expand Head Start, using discretionary money to insulate homes in rural Alaska, the first weatherization program which became the model that became the National Weatherization Program. They were also able to fund the Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association, initiating the Community Development Quota program now serving most of coastal Alaska and rural Alaskans. They also initiated a rural energy loan program to help communities in need in times when a community runs out of fuel. These are just a few of the programs, many of which still exist today.

Protecting the subsistence way of life in rural Alaska was a high priority for RurAL CAP and all Native organizations in Alaska. In one of their most important moves, the board of RurAL CAP funded a full time advocate in Washington, D.C. to follow subsistence and look for opportunities to add legislation. This is how the opportunity came to light using found the opportunity in the National Interest Lands Conservation Act. Using a resolution RurAL CAP passed, Title 8 was drafted to protect rural subsistence because the State of Alaska would not. This is an important policy for preserving the way of life for rural Alaskans. In 2016, gordon received a Gold Pan Award from RurAL CAP as one of the five most significant leaders in their 50 year history.

In 1971, Jackson became the regional director for the Southeast Alaska Community Action Program and led the region to continue filing land allotment applications in Tongass National Forest. He worked with the community of Kake working to erect the world’s largest totem pole. Because this symbolized all of the Southeast Alaska Tlingit and Haida tribal clans, he joined the elders in planning a traditional totem raising potlatch which brought together over a thousand clan leaders, dancers, and dignitaries. This event is available on video which is stored in the State of Alaska Archives.

Gordon returned to Anchorage in 1973 where he was hired by the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) to run the new Johnson O’Malley Program. The Bureau of Indian Affairs contracted the program to the AFN after much conflict with native leaders who objected to the use of those funds for the State Dormitory and Boarding Home Program. Gordon changed the program to its original intent of the law -- to fund education and enrichment programs for Alaska Natives. He subcontracted programs to the regional nonprofit associations all over rural Alaska. Regulation changes spurred Gordon to be in touch with many national Indian leaders as part of the National Congress of American Indians. The outcome of those discussions are now being used in new bills being pushed regarding Indian self-determination.

After a promotion to Vice President for AFN Human Resources, Gordon took the lead to change the education delivery system in rural Alaska, and to include Alaska Natives in discussions about the system. His efforts changed education delivery systems to allow children access from home, rather than having to leave, like he did, in order to receive a high school education, hundreds of miles from home. Through these efforts, by 1974, legislation made its way through the Alaska Legislature which changed delivery systems to be locally controlled by Alaska Natives through the Regional Education Attendance areas and funding from the State of Alaska foundation program. Simultaneously while this was happening, the Johnson O’Malley program became a part of the new self-determination legislation in the U.S. Congress.

Gordon and the AFN Human Resource Committee advocated the inclusion of Alaska Native Tribes in PL93-638, the self-determination legislation. For contracting purposes, it was important for tribes in Alaska be recognized and included, and through vigorous advocacy, this was attained. Under the legislation, tribes can contract for services provided by the Indian Health Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs. Consortiums of tribes could be created and many were. The Southeast Alaska Tribal Health Corporation which runs health services in Tlingit communities is one such consortium, including all Southeast tribes. This policy is a significant one that changed rural health care and delivery through self-determination. Gordon’s leadership in this arena resulted in the AFN naming him the 1975 Employee of the Year.

After this, Gordon moved to the Alaska Native Foundation. During his time there, it was suggested the Alaska Native Land Claims Act eliminated the need for Alaska Native programs under section 2C. With funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Rural Alaska Community Action Program, a study was launched in order to prove it did not. They were able to prove this after a year of research with David Case, and the Federal-Native relationship remains strong and programs continue. David went on to write two books explaining federal Alaska Native Law strengthening the relationship farther and clarifying Alaska Native Law.

Gordon joined Alaska Legal Services Corporation in 1980 as their director, and was the only Alaska Native director in their history. At the time, he and another at the Navajo Nation were the only two non-attorney directors in the United States. When the corporation’s board of directors announced plans to close their rural legal offices due to financial difficulties, Gordon there was another on the Navaho Nation and were the only two non attorney directors in the United States. The board of Directors revealed they were $200,000 in debt and requested a plan to close all of the rural legal offices. He asked for a six-month postponement of that plan to enable him to work on a solution to the problem. The national offices were not able to help, but did provide several suggestions. One of these was a state match, but Alaska did not provide one. Gordon worked with rural Alaska legislators in Juneau to adopt a state match, added to the state budget, saving the ALSC from bankruptcy. several decades. Gordon describes his time at ALSC as one of the most difficult but satisfying jobs he ever had.

Gordon worked as a legislative aide for Alaska state legislator Representative Al Adams, who was then then Chairman of the House of Representatives Finance Committee. He worked on funding education programs, funding construction of schools, and suicide prevention programs. Commuting back and forth from Anchorage and getting back to Juneau and Southeast Alaska made him wonder about returning to the area.

In 1983 Gordon moved back to Southeast Alaska to work for the Sealaska Heritage Foundation under David Katzeek. His fundraising efforts benefited the second Celebration event in 1984, Tlingit literature, a Tlingit dictionary, and teaching the language.

While in Juneau, Gordon’s many uncles from Kake were frequent visitors, convincing him to run and become elected to their corporation’s board of directors. He went on to serve for 25 more years. In 1990, Gordon was elected as their President, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer, serving for ten years. He diversified the corporation from logging to fisheries, tourism, value added fish products, and created the Kake Tribal Heritage Foundation. The company was profitable for all of the ten years he was there giving dividends and providing jobs to anyone who needed one.

He coordinated with the City of Kake and Organized Village of Kake, an Indian Reorganization Act Corporation, working together to secure funding to build a new hatchery building. They were also successful in funding the paving of every street in the community of Kake. To protect the community of Kake water supply and water needed for the hatchery, Gordon initiated a land exchange. The corporation did not have input in the selections as they were done by the regional corporation. It took a lot of work, he says, flying back and forth to Washington, D.C., but the Kake Land Exchange Act was passed, and the corporation was compensated for for the timber lands lost in the exchange.

In 1993, Gordon initiated the Kake Dog Salmon Festival which celebrates the return of salmon runs and hard working cannery workers and fisherman. He worked with Coeur Alaska to secure permits and negotiate contracts. The Berners Bay Consortium was created and Gordon became its chairman. During this time Gordon traveled frequently between Kake and Juneau. In 2000 he left this to focus on fishing before starting a new venture.

Gordon then joined the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes Alaska as their director of economic development. He later became the director of transportation and senior policy advisor to the president, working on subsistence, commercial fishery initiatives, permits for the Kensington Mine, extension of the Southeast Intertie to smaller villages in rural Southeast Alaska.

Gordon is a graduate of Sheldon Jackson High School and junior college; graduated with a Bachelors Degree and Masters in Rural Development from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. He was born in Kake, Alaska to Charlie and Emily Jackson. He has been married to Pat Jackson for almost 50 years. They have two sons Scotty and Brian, and have three grandchildren Dylan, Rhys, and Sawyer.

Press Release Contact

Keni Campbell
University of Alaska Southeast
(907) 796-6509