Cliff Edenshaw is one of two candidates running for Tribal Council Chairman. He says he wants the council to reach out more to tribal citizens.
Edenshaw was born and raised in Sitka, but he’s spent most of his adult life away from home, most recently working on subsistence issues with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage. He moved back to town in March 2013.
What brought him home?
“Family,” he said. “My mother is 88, she still lives here, my aunt and other relations.”
Edenshaw’s mother, Frances Widmark Sr., was a major force within the Alaska Native Sisterhood when he was growing up. Edenshaw remembers being ten, thirteen years old and spending time down at the ANB Hall.
“Our father passed away just after I was born, so our mother raised seven kids just by herself,” he said. “She taught us to, when we were down at the ANB we would clean up, we would serve food to elders. We watched her do her work with Central Council when Sitka was on the forefront of land claims.”
So what did he learn from those years as a kid, watching his mother’s work?
“Robert’s Rules of Order!” Edenshaw says with a laugh.
But more centrally, he says, he learned the importance of fighting for rights and resources for Native people.
Until he retired, Edenshaw spent a total of 22 years working for various federal agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs. For over a decade, he worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a coordinator with the Office of Subsistence Management.
In that job, he was a liaison between the regional advisory councils, which offer grassroots traditional knowledge, and the agencies that set the rules on subsistence hunting, trapping and fishing on federal lands.
“I learned a tremendous amount from rural residents from Barrow down to Bristol Bay out the Aleutian chain, Kodiak,” he says.
If elected, he said, one priority would be making sure that Sitka retains its rural status. Under federal law, that rural designation protects local subsistence rights.
Since retiring, Edenshaw has been working part-time as a driver for The Ride, Sitka’s bus system. And if you’ve ever taken a ride with him, you know he likes to talk.
“I’m a people person, so I love to get out and meet, see people,” he said.
That’s something he wants to bring to the Tribal Council.
“I’ve been to a couple of the tribal meetings, the council meetings, and you know, there was a handful of people there,” he said. “But you know, we’re a tribal community here, and Sitka has a large number of people, enrolled tribal members, and I just think we need to [reach out]. Whether it’s through potlucks, informational meetings: getting people to come out.”
Edenshaw said he wants to make sure the Tribe has its financial house in order, and he’d like to see it take on new ventures to bring in revenue. He suggested investing in a few charter fishing boats, and working with young members to become tour guides or charter boat operators.
“I think you’d kill two birds with one stone,” he said. “You could instill self-esteem, confidence for our young kids to go in and do what it takes to get a six-pack license, on top of earning money.”
As for why he’s running for Tribal Chairman, rather than a regular seat on the Tribal Council, Edenshaw said simply, “I believe I have [the] leadership qualities.”
The Tribal Council election will take place on November 11. Absentee voting has begun, and ballots are available at the Sitka Tribe of Alaska. You can find profiles of all the candidates, as they air, here.