Surprise, You’re Aleutian!

An unexpected phone call puts Tom Weathers on a new path in life

Published in 2005 Northern California Super Lawyers — August 2005

In 1998, Tom Weathers was a mild-mannered civil litigation associate at Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May in Oakland. Then a man claiming to be a private investigator from Alaska telephoned him out of the blue and said that Weathers owned stock in a company called Sealaska Corp., that the man had been searching for Weathers for eight years, and furthermore, that Weathers himself had Aleutian heritage. “I thought it was a scam,” Weathers says. But he decided to call the company’s records department, and lo and behold, it was all true. And Weathers’ life changed.

He discovered that his father was Aleut. “My father died when I was 6, and my mom remarried and never told me anything about him,” he says. When his paternal grandfather — whom he never met — died in 1990, Weathers and his sister inherited the shares that the man had received under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1972 — although it took a while for the private investigator to find them.

As Weathers dug deeper into his family history and heritage, he became more and more interested in Indian law. “I went to an Indian law conference in Albuquerque, where Indian law practitioners tend to be native as well, and met the people there,” says Weathers, who was elected to the board of directors for the National Native American Bar Association at the same conference. “When I was doing commercial litigation and big firm stuff, I did not even know the field of Indian law existed.” Weathers eventually helped start his own firm, Alexander, Berkey, Williams & Weathers in Berkeley, and now exclusively practices Indian law. He has even served as the president of the National Native American Bar Association.

Weathers takes great pride in his membership in the Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska, returning to Alaska every year to take part in an Aleut culture camp. At the camp, “children come to learn traditional arts and crafts and song and dance — keeping the culture alive,” he explains. “I’m by far the oldest participant there, and I’m learning it like these kids.

“Now I can point to a place on the map and say my family has lived on this island for 9,000 years,” Weathers says. “It’s mindblowing.”

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