Alaska Native Leader Niles Cesar Passes Away

A leader in moving tribes to greater self-determination died over the weekend.

A Tlingit Indian from Juneau, Niles Cesar served twenty years in the Medical Service Corps, including a year in Vietnam. He retired from the Navy as a Lieutenant then completed a B.S. degree in environmental health.

From 1979 to 1990, Cesar was executive vice president of the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium. For the next 19 years, he served as director for the Alaska Bureau of Indian Affairs. His colleague there, Charles Bunch, says Cesar headed the region after the Native American Self Determination and Educational Assistance act opened the door for increased tribal self-determination and the transfer of responsibility for direct services from the agency to tribes.

“Almost half the federally recognized tribes in the United States are in Alaska and Niles made great, great strides in helping them to contract out these government services.”

Bunch says Cesar’s push for tribal self-determination carried through to his advocacy of a mainstay of Native life.

“I think that the Natives of Alaska have lost a champion as one of the members of the Federal Subsistence Board I think Niles worked hard to ensure that way of life was continued in Alaska.”

Cesar served on the boards of the Native corporations Sealaska and Goldbelt, and was a council member on the Juneau Tlingit and Haida Community Council. He was a member of the Raven moiety and L’ukwaax.ádi clan. Anchorage services will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church. The family plans to announce Juneau services soon. Niles Cesar passed away last Saturday at age 70 after a long struggle with cancer.

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Joaqlin Estus is a reporter at KNBA in Anchorage.

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