Alaska Native land-claims leader dies

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Don Wright, an Alaska Native leader who was a force behind a landmark tribal lands compensation law, has died at age 84.

Wright died July 5, according to a release by the family that was distributed by Doyon Ltd., the Fairbanks-based regional Native corporation. Wright died in Kenai, Doyon spokeswoman Lessa Peter said.

Wright was head of the Alaska Federation of Natives in 1971 when then-President Richard Nixon signed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act into law, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

The law compensated Alaska Natives for loss of historic lands. It led to establishment of regional and village Native corporations with the right to select 44 million acres of land and appropriated $962.5 million to them. Doyon is one of 13 regional Native corporations created under the law.

In the statement provided to Doyon, Wright’s granddaughter, Jennifer Romer, said he was a champion for Alaska.

“His commanding personality helped create connections with various valued dignitaries and political advocates which produced positive changes for Alaska Native peoples,” Romer wrote. “Don’s legacy in this matter is priceless to his family and will indubitably affect many future generations of Alaskans.”

Donald Rose Wright was born Nov. 24, 1929, in Nenana, where his funeral is scheduled to take place July 26. He was the fourth of seven sons born to Arthur and Myrtle Rose-Wright. His father was an Athabascan who was born at the confluence of the Tanana and Yukon rivers. His mother was born in Wyoming, later working as an Episcopal missionary nurse in Alaska.

Wright was a man of many talents, including work in construction, flight, community organization and steamboats, according to his family. His ability to connect with people from all walks of life led him to politics, the family said.

Wright unsuccessfully ran for governor numerous times under various party affiliations. Years ago, he said he would continue to seek office until he won or died.

Wright enjoyed subsistence fishing and hunting and loved to cook, his family said.

“He was an impeccable host; welcoming family, friends and strangers — who soon became friends — into his hand-built Alaskan log cabin on the Chena River; and all were in awe of its size and craftsmanship,” Romer wrote.

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