Native Bruin- Past, Present, & Emerging – Joseph Nelson

This June we are highlighting Native Bruin Joseph Nelson / Kaaxúxgu from the Tlingit/Eyak Nation, Class of 1996.
Joseph is a Native Bruin Class of 1996. BA in Political Science with a minor in American Indian Studies UCLA 1996, MA in American Indian Studies UCLA 1998, JD from Loyola Law School 2001. While at UCLA, Joeseph served as AISA President, RAIN Project Director, and AIR founding member. He helped start the Native Bruin publication and spent a few evenings rolling fry bread dough on the conference table in Campbell Hall with his brother Tecumseh Strong.
Joe is a Brown Bear (Teikweidí) from Yakutat. He is also a Kwáashk’I kwaan yádi. (Brown Bear clan/Eagle moiety, child of the Humpback Salmon clan/Raven moiety) His Tlingit name is Kaaxúxgu. Joe grew up commercial fishing and subsistence living in Yakutat. Although Joe is a licensed attorney and fully immersed in Alaska Native business and policy, he spent much of his career in higher education serving as a Vice-Chancello at the University of Alaska Southeast for many years. Being raised on the land and water in a Native community, Joe has long held a belief that Indigenous thinking must take center stage if we can restore balance on the planet.
“UCLA, especially the Campus Retention Committee and Community Programs Office, helped ground me in community empowerment,” said Joe. “Most people of color come from collectivist societies. We inherently think intergenerationally and take care of each other. The planet needs our ancient thinking more than ever. Our grandchildren need us to take our place at the head of the table – of all the systems – if they are going to have any connection to their ancestors.”
As the Chairman of Sealaska, Joe works with the board, management, and partners to further Sealaska’s strategic plan and fulfill their purpose of strengthening our people, our culture and our homelands. Under his leadership, Sealaska restructured its businesses by putting ancient Native values at the center of everything the company does. Ironically, during the pandemic, Sealaska purchased seafood and environmental companies in the UK, Ireland, Iceland, and Norway to integrate with its existing US-based companies. The businesses are rolled up under a new subsidiary known as Woocheen (which means ‘working together’ in Tlingit). They have been tasked with restoring the health of our oceans.
This year, Joe is leading an effort to weave Sealaska’s mission-driven work together with the creation of its affiliated non-profits, Sealaska Heritage Institute, and Spruce Root. Together, they are transforming southeast Alaska and beyond by embracing and sharing our ancient values and teachings.
“Today, you will find elders and certified teachers in our public school classrooms teaching in our Native languages,” said Joe. “It is both a beautiful and necessary thing.”
Joe, his wife Crystal and children, Job, Nora, and Jude live in Juneau.
Current roles:
Chairman, Sealaska Corporation.
Board member, Woocheen.
Co-chair, Alaska Federation of Natives.
Board member, Spruce Root.
ex-officio Trustee, Sealaska Heritage Institute.
President, Alaska Legal Services.
Chair, Outer Coast College.