"I felt that after 23 years, it was time to look at new horizons," said Thomas, who resigned from the organization in April and has stayed to help in the leadership transition. "I figured if I was going to keep moving and being productive, I shouldn't wait until later."
As the president of Central Council, Thomas managed the business of the tribe and served as chair of the general assembly of the executive council. He represented the tribe in all external affairs, including testifying before Congress and governor and state legislature meetings.
The only Tlingit to ride down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC on a horse in full regalia, Thomas has appeared before both Presidents Bush, and Presidents Reagan, Clinton and Ford.
"I think what I liked best about the position was the ability to get things done," said Thomas, 65. "I also liked the opportunity it gave me to provide services to needy tribal citizens and develop personal relationships with the tribe's members over the years."
CCTHITA, which is headquartered in Juneau, serves as a tribal government representing more than 27,000 Tlingit and Haida Indians worldwide, including 16,000 in Southeast Alaska.
When Thomas steps down, the council will be led by first vice-president William Martin, who will succeed Thomas for the remainder of his term, which ends in April 2008.
"President Thomas, in his 23 years as president of Tlingit and Haida, created avenues for us to exist as a tribe under self-determination," said Martin of his predecessor.
"His work in obtaining education for our children is unsurpassed by any other tribal leader, and he was able to take almost nothing in our trust fund to $13 million at the time of his retirement.
"Most important of all, President Thomas was always there to lend a hand whenever families were ill or in mourning," he said.
According to Thomas, the job, while rewarding, was not always easy.
"There were definitely challenges, especially in eradicating the myth that all of our people are able to get all of the money they need from the federal government," he said. "The fact is, less than 25 percent of our people get services from the government.
"It was also a challenge to have a meaningful working relationship with the U. S. government. It would benefit both of us to work together for our common citizenry, yet the state is still trying to diminish the tribal presence in Alaska."
Throughout Thomas' tenure, he has worked to ensure the progress of the tribe in many ways, financially, culturally and politically.
"It was a very proud moment for me when we got the tribe reinstated on the list of federally recognized tribes," he said. "I am proud that on the management side, we've gotten the tribe out of the red and into the black."
"I think what I am most struck by is President Thomas' wisdom," said Archie Cavanaugh, Central Council education manager and Vocational Training and Resource Center director, who has worked with Thomas for more than 21 years. "It reminds me of Mark 9:35-'if anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last and service us all.'
"President Thomas has always stood up for his people, especially the less advantaged," he added. "He has always shown wisdom and leadership and is highly respected because of that."
While Thomas said that he is still getting used to the idea of retirement, he has no doubt that Central Council will continue to succeed.
"One of the reasons I chose to step down now was because Bill Martin has demonstrated his commitment and willingness to learn, which is vital in making sure that Central Council has stability over the next year or two," he said.
In the meantime, Thomas plans to spend the summer relaxing before deciding on his next move. He said he is hoping to find a full-time position, perhaps in the field of business development.
"My wife and I will be hanging around Juneau; as Central Council president, I did a lot of traveling, and I missed last summer almost entirely," he said.
As his last day on the job nears, Thomas said that the hardest thing to do is leave the people he has worked with and represented.
"It is definitely hard to leave a staff who you've worked with for so long," he said. "You develop a lot of friendships and relationships.
"I would like to add that I am very honored and pleased to have received such strong support from the community over the years," he added of his elected position. "It was good to know that when I served as president, all of us worked together toward a common mission."