Gov. Bill Walker Adopted Into Tlingit Clan

Gov. Bill Walker dances during a ceremony at a Tlingit Haida Central Council function April 17 where he was adopted into the Kaagwaantaan Clan. (Creative Commons photo courtesy Alaska Governor’s Office)
Gov. Bill Walker dances during a ceremony at a Tlingit Haida Central Council function April 17 where he was adopted into the Kaagwaantaan Clan. (Creative Commons photo courtesy Alaska Governor’s Office)

Gov. Bill Walker was recently adopted into the Tlingit Kaagwaantaan Clan. The ceremony happened during the 80th Assembly of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, where Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott was also given a lifetime achievement award.

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In a video of Gov. Bill Walker’s adoption ceremony into the Kaagwaantaan Clan, a Tlingit tribal member places a $5 bill on the governor’s forehead to symbolize a payment for the name.

Then the crowd chants the governor’s Kaagwaantaan name four times. He’s now a member of the Eagle’s Nest House within the Kaagwaantaan Clan, which means Wolf Clan. The clan is part of the Eagle moiety. Walker said being adopted by the clan was a complete surprise.

“It was exciting. Something I’d not been a part of before. It was all brand-spanking new to me and was such an honor. … My adopted name now is Gooch Waak,” Walker says.

Leona Santiago is a tribal delegate from the Kaagwaantaan Clan. She says she came up with the name in 2008 for an adopted family member. And now it’s the name given to the governor: Gooch Waak, which means “wolf eyes.”

She says tribal elders wanted to adopt Gov. Walker into the Kaagwaantaan because of the lieutenant governor’s Native roots.

“Because Byron Mallott is Raven and the Tlingit way, Eagle/Raven is a balance,” she says.

This 10,000-year-old tradition creates equal representation for Tlingit families. Few Alaskan leaders have been adopted into Native clans. Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott says it makes the relationship between him and the governor more whole.

“It was special to me. It is special for Tlingit people and I know it’s special for Alaska. The more we can bring those lives across this incredible state together, the stronger we are a state, so it was a good step,” Mallott says.

Recently, Gov. Walker introduced emergency regulations for the Indian Child Welfare Act. It would create lower barriers for extended family or tribal members to adopt Native kids. Essentially, less bureaucracy. Leona Santiago said the timing had nothing to do with adopting Gov. Walker into the Kaagwaantaan clan.

“No, that isn’t what we did. We did it to set the balance because Byron Mallott is a Raven,” Santiago says.

Gov. Bill Walker, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, and Tlngit Haida Central Council President Richard Peterson at council assembly April 17.  Mallott received a lifetime achievement award. (Creative Commons photo courtesy Alaska Governor’s Office)
Gov. Bill Walker, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, and Tlngit Haida Central Council President Richard Peterson at council assembly April 17. Mallott received a lifetime achievement award. (Creative Commons photo courtesy Alaska Governor’s Office)

In the video of the ceremony, Gov. Walker dances to a traditional Kaagwaantaan song. He says being governor, you have a lot of one-and-done moments.

“And that wasn’t. That was a life changing moment for me and I knew that,” Walker says.

Gooch Waak or Gov. Bill Walker says he will continue advocating on behalf of all Alaskans.