Tlingit-Haida Central Council President Ed Thomas speaks at Wednesday’s Native Issues Forum in Juneau. Thomas plans to step down in 2014. Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska

Ed Thomas is the elected leader of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

He’s telling tribal members that he will not run for re-election when his term ends next year.

Thomas became council president in 1984. He retired on short notice in 2007, but returned to win back the post three years later.

“I’m planning to give people a bit more chance to find my replacement and get more involved and have more of a say in who my successor is, rather than me just walking out,” he said in an interview following a forum at Juneau’s Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall.

The central council’s president has a full-time job, overseeing programs including vocational training, public safety, family and youth services, and tribal courts.

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Thomas plays a leadership role in other Native organizations and businesses, including serving on Sealaska corporation’s board of directors.

He says retirement will allow him to continue that work.

“I’m involved in the National Congress of American Indians and the AFN also. So, it gets to be just a little bit challenging to do all that stuff. I’d like to focus on being a board member and helping out the tribe wherever I can,” he says.

The central council is federally recognized, but most member communities have their own tribal governments. The council lists 21 local affiliates, most in Southeast, with others in Anchorage, Seattle and San Francisco.

Thomas says he doesn’t plan to endorse a successor.

“I think it should be wide open. I think the people should decide. I think there’s some good candidates, but there are also some that would create more political issues than positive administrative opportunities for us,” he says.

The central council was founded in 1935. By the time he retires next year, Thomas will have been president for about a third of the organization’s existence.