Posted By:
Kathy Dye
Kathy Dye
Published On: September 8th, 2023

Board names Haida trustee as chair

Sealaska Heritage Institute’s (SHI) longtime chair is retiring from its board of trustees.

Tlingit leader Slath Jaa Klaa Lákooti (Marlene Johnson), who has served on SHI’s board since 1990 and as its chair since 2011, will cede her seat to the noted Tlingit glass artist Preston Singletary.

Marlene has helped lead SHI into a period of tremendous growth and especially championed a focus on revitalization of Native languages, said SHI President Rosita Worl.

“Marlene provided the leadership at the board level as SHI’s programs moved from “preservation” of Southeast Alaska Native culture to the ‘revitalization and enhancement of Native culture, language and arts.’ The vitality of Native cultures has never been more apparent than it is today, thanks to her leadership that endured 33 years,” Worl said.

“I appreciate and am thankful for all of the years I was able to serve on SHI’s board,” Johnson said. “I appreciate the institute’s staff and all their hard work and the progress they’ve made. I hope they continue their success and growth.”

The SHI board appointed its trustee Vicki Soboleff, a member of the Haida tribe and the Sealaska board of directors, for the role of chair.

“I am humbled and honored to serve in this role, following Marlene’s legacy of leadership,” said Soboleff. “She has tirelessly served her people, community and state for the last 50 plus years. I look forward to continuing the important work of SHI, leaning on the knowledge and guidance of those who came before us.”

“I always wanted to do a study of the youth who were members of Vicki’s dance group 25 years ago as I was convinced that their participation in these cultural activities greatly enhanced a positive Native identity during a period in which Native identity continued to be challenged and that it further led to academic achievement,” Worl said.  “Our evaluations of culture-based education today support this thesis.”

Singletary is an internationally renowned Northwest Coast artist known especially for his innovative and creative works of art in glass. His sculptures deal with themes of Tlingit legends and traditional designs.

“SHI is fortunate to have one of his glass screens in our clan house, and art historians have noted it will be known as his iconic piece,” Worl said. “Preston also has been a long-time supporter of SHI and serves on our Native Artist Committee, which guides our art programs.”


Vicki Soboleff is Haida, Yak’Laanas (Raven/Double Fin Killerwhale) of the Brown Bear House and Tlingit (adopted) Kiks.ádi (Raven/Frog) of the Tináa Hít (Copper Shield House) and the G̱agaan Hít (Sun House). Her Haida names are Hiilunjaat and Tl’aakahlwaas and her Tlingit names are Kuk’ak and Shx’aasti. She is an artist, performer, mentor and teacher who was born in Seattle and raised in Ketchikan. She formed the youth dance group Lda Kut Naax Sati Yatx’i (All Nations’ Children) in 1995 with the goal of promoting self-esteem, confidence and leadership abilities among the members through emphasis on prevention, academics and sobriety. Under her leadership, the group grew to over 100 members, with many youth graduates moving on to college. Some of the group’s graduates now work with Native youth and are leaders in their communities. Vicki handed leadership of the group to former member Barbara Dude in August 2015, and now participates as advisor. In 2016, she received the Governor’s Award for the Arts — Margaret Nick Cooke Award for Alaska Native Arts and Languages. Vicki moved to Washington in July 2017 with her family. In 2018 she continued her work with youth through the Washington Tlingit and Haida, ultimately starting the youth dance group X̲aat’áay ‘Wáadluwaan G̲aagáay (All Nations’ Children in Haida), which is a cousin group to LdaKat Naax Sati Yatx’i (All Nations’ Children in Tlingit). In 2019, she received the Tlingit and Haida President’s Everyday Hero Award — Culture Bearer.

She received instruction in the Haida language from Nora and Robert Cogo, and she was taught Haida basketry, moccasin making and traditional beadwork by the world-renowned master weaver Selina Peratrovich, Julia Fawcett and Beatrice Starkweather respectively. Her Haida grandmother, Vesta Johnson, also taught her beginning Haida language, Haida songs and dance and button-blanket making. She also trained in Haida basketry under the world-renowned master weaver Delores Churchill and Janice Criswell. She received training in Ravenstail weaving from Cheryl Samuel and Kay Parker and completed a Tlingit language course with Ken Austin.

Preston Singletary’s art has become synonymous with the relationship between Tlingit culture and fine art. His glass sculptures deal with themes of Tlingit legends and traditional designs, while also using music to shape his contemporary perspective of Native culture. Singletary started blowing glass in 1982 at the Glass Eye studios in Seattle, where he grew up and continues to work and live. He developed his skills as a production glass maker and attended the Pilchuck Glass School. Singletary began working at the glass studio of Benjamin Moore, where he broadened his skills by assisting Dante Marioni, Richard Royal, Dan Dailey and Lino Tagliapietra. It was there where Singletary started to develop his own work. In 1993, he traveled for work to Sweden where he was influenced by Scandinavian design and met his future wife, Åsa Sandlund. In 2000, Singletary received an honorary name from Elder Joe David (Nuu Chah Nulth), and in 2009 Singletary received an honorary doctorate degree from University of Puget Sound. Forty years of glass making, creating music and working together with Elders has put him in a position of being a keeper of cultural knowledge, while forging new directions in new materials and concepts of Indigenous arts. Now recognized internationally, Singletary’s works are included in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts; the Seattle Art Museum; the Ethnographic Museum in Stockholm, Sweden; the National Museum of Scotland; The British Museum; the National Museum of the American Indian; as well as two solo exhibitions that toured multiple venues originating with the Museum of Glass in Washington.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.

CONTACT: Kathy Dye, SHI Media and Publications Deputy Director, 907.321.4636,

Captions: Photo of Marlene Johnson by Brian Wallace, courtesy of SHI; photo of Preston Singletary by Jovelle Tamayo, courtesy of the American Craft Council Library and Archives; photo of Vicki Soboleff by Holli Margell, courtesy of Sealaska. Note: News outlets are permitted to publish these photos for coverage of this story and with sources cited.

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