Special Guest Speaker

James Thomas

My people numbered 250 in a village on the gulf coast of Alaska, where a calm ocean can roar with 80 mph winds wherein, I fished in a small 19’ skiff while keeping an eye to the breakers that would roar up my river. Who would have known that I would encounter a life so full of wonder and opportunity. I could not even relate to the geography of the world as I turned the pages of my grade school books. I am Jim Thomas, a missionary given name. I am a Tlingit Indian whose language was never written and whose guttural utterances could not be given vocabulary. My two tribal royal names are Shaa Ye Gun and kHaatsati. I learned my language at the side of my grandmother who spoke no English. I would run to the ANB Hall in my town to watch movies made by a machine with huge reels and projections of a new world. I would rush home and tell her the entire story in my language. I am now one of just 40 living Tlingits who speak the language.

All the Native children of Alaska were shipped to two schools at Sitka, Alaska after graduating from the 8th grade: After attending one small school, I transferred to the Holland (Michigan) High school, landing in a sea of 1,600 blonds, mostly Dutch. That’s a story in itself. I want on to Hope College also in Holland. I was well accepted thanks to my training in speech and as a concert Baritone both in high school and college. It was also the foundation that gave me the confidence to succeed in a world of both American Indian and non-Indian business and politics.

I am a storyteller. There’s much to tell; complex tribal social life; fun stories, observations of the new societies that came to our land and the utmost respect of our Mother Earth.

I have spent my life working with American Indian Tribes restoring lands wrongfully taken by the United States Government. I held a national position in Washington DC representing tribes across the country. I became an Assistant to the VP of the United States as a speech writer/editor. Great celebrities such as Marlon Brando were personal friends and I enjoyed some firsts such as being the first American Indian inducted into the National Press Club and first American Indian Judge in the Miss America Scholarship Pageants, judging cities and states. I opened the first Tribal Consulting company in Washington D.C. in the National Press Club Building and from there represented over 100 tribes in the United States.