As a student in the Whitworth Class of 1909, William Paul had a hand in seemingly every activity the college offered during its early days in Tacoma: He played football and baseball for four years and basketball for two years; he was president of the Criterion Literary Society, an early 1900s version of speech and debate; and he was literary editor of The Whitworthian.
In Paul’s senior yearbook, his classmates assessed his prospects thus: “He is a swell, at any rate, he has a lackey and that is more than any one else in the class has. He intends to be a D.D., but ministers are proverbially poor, so time must tell as to whether he can support this lackey all his life.” (The “lackey” – a now-seldom-used word for an assistant – was actually a reference to his schoolmate and fiancée, Frances Lackey, ’10, whom he married in 1911.)
Paul far exceeded the yearbook’s assessment: Not only did he and Frances enjoy a marriage of nearly 60 years, but Paul went on to accomplish great things. After graduating from Whitworth, he returned to his home region, the Alaska Territory, and dedicated his life to the cause of native rights in the United States, especially for his own people, the Tlingit Indians. As a mixed-race Tlingit, Paul was a member of the Raven moiety (one of two complementary tribal subdivisions) and of the Teeyhittaan clan. His native name was Shgúndi (“Schquindy”).
Paul became an attorney and won a case that gave natives the right to vote; another of his cases led a judge to order that all public schools be opened to native children. Paul and his brother, Louis, were leaders of the Alaska Native Brotherhood, which developed a strong presence in villages in southeast Alaska. William Paul served as ANB’s grand president and grand secretary.
Paul was the first Alaska native elected to the Alaska Territorial House of Representatives, and the first to serve as an officer in the federal government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. In 1927 he helped draft the legislation to adopt Alaska’s flag. He is known as the father of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, which sought to resolve longstanding issues related to aboriginal land claims in the state.
Paul’s unflagging, lifelong efforts for native rights set groundbreaking precedents and laid important foundations for future generations. He died in Seattle in 1977.