Alaska legislators offered their condolonces and remembrances of former lawmaker and Alaska Native leader Albert Kookesh, who has died at age 72.
Kookesh, who had been suffering from prostate cancer, died in his hometown of Angoon, surrounded by loved ones, his family announced Friday. Kookesh served in the Alaska House of Representatives from 1997-2004 and the Alaska Senate from 2005-2012. In addition to his legislative career, he also served as chairman of the Alaska Federation of Natives and Sealaska Corporation, director of the First Alaskans Institute, and acted as an adviser to former governors Tony Knowles and Bill Walker. The Tlingit leader graduated from Mt. Edgecumbe High School in 1967, eventually getting his doctorate of law from the University of Washington in 1976.
“Albert committed his life to public service and advancing Alaska Native issues through his work with Kootznoowoo Inc., as a 16-year legislator, a co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives, a board member of the Sealaska Corporation, and so many other endeavors,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a statement from his office. “He embodied the Alaskan spirit and his legacy of leadership and dedication to the people of Alaska will live on long past his death. We offer our sincere condolences to the Kookesh family and the community of Angoon in this time of mourning.”
In a statement from the Alaska House Coalition, Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, called Kookesh “ ... a force in Alaska politics, and a legendary Alaska Native leader.”
“He achieved the trifecta of serving in the Senate, as co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives and as president of the Sealaska board,” Edgmon said. “My thoughts are with his wife, Sally, his entire family, and the community of Angoon.”
Fellow Southeast legislator Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, added, “We lost a giant both in Alaska politics and in the Southeast community as a whole.”
Kookesh’s political career ended in 2012 when he lost the Senate race to Bert Stedman, R-Southeast Islands, after the Alaska Redistricting Board gerrymandered Kookesh into a news district vastly different from his previous district. In a statement, Stedman said, “Albert Kookesh was not only an advocate for the region, he was a statewide leader and an excellent family man. He will be greatly missed within his family and beyond that throughout the state and Southeast Alaska. He took great care of his family, his village, and Alaskans across the state.”
Willie “Iggiagruk” Hensley, chairman of the First Alaskans Institute, recognized Kookesh for his contributions to protecting Alaska Native ways of life.
“Al was a powerful voice for the Tlingit people and Alaska Natives,” Hensley said. “His work and dedication will not be forgotten.”
Gov. Dunleavy has ordered U.S. flags and Alaska state flags to fly at half-staff on a date to be determined by the family in honor of Kookesh.
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