Getting to Know Alaska's Regional ANCs: Protecting culture, traditions, and lands while operating successful businesses.

Author:Mackenzie, Kathryn
 
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Since they were established as corporations in the early 1970s, the twelve Alaska Native Regional corporations have worked tirelessly to uplift their respective regions, their shareholders, and the state's economy as a whole. All together they reported more than $10.5 billion in revenue last year--revenue that creates opportunities; protects their lands, culture, and resources; and provides investment opportunities for the entire state and, more importantly, their shareholders.

This year Alaska Business asked each corporation's top executives to share a little about their business, new initiatives, and what makes them unique in an already rarified group. We are grateful to every person who took the time out his or her (very) busy schedule to offer this valuable insight into the past, present, and future of the regional corporations.

In no particular order, we present a snapshot of the twelve Alaska Native Regional Corporations.

AHTNA, INC.

Ahtna's 2,000 shareholders are mainly comprised of the Ahtna Athabascan people of the Copper River and Cantwell regions of Southcentral Alaska. "The Ahtna people take their name from the indigenous word for the Copper River, which flows through Ahtna land," according to the organization's website.

Michelle Anderson, president of Ahtna, shares her thoughts on Ahtna's accomplishments, future, and the importance of preserving history and culture.

What has been or is your favorite initiative or program of 2019?

Ahtna has put an intense focus on shareholder hire and education in 2019. Ahtna made a $1 million investment in shareholder employment programs based in the eight Ahtna villages. We revamped our online scholarship program and promotion to reach more students and doubled the award amounts. We have improved our internship program and now refer to the young professionals placed throughout the company as Ahtna's Special Forces. This is not a traditional internship offering; our Special Forces are actively engaged and participating at a management level to learn firsthand the issues, challenges, and opportunities that the Ahtna family of companies are pursuing for the betterment of our people. We have a generation to get up to speed so they are ready to step into leadership positions.

What new developments are your shareholders saying they are most excited about?

Shareholders are genuinely excited and thankful for the employment opportunities that we've had in our villages this summer. Our shareholders have identified education and training as a top priority and appreciate the increase in funding for college and vocational education.

To what do you attribute your success as a regional ANC?

Our corporation's strength comes from our people and our culture. We work closely with our tribes, our region's village corporation, our tribal nonprofits and housing authority, and our shareholders. We believe in our vision--our culture unites us; our land sustains us; our people are prosperous.

What makes your region economically unique?

We are the only Alaska Native Region whose villages are all on the road system and the highway system crosses on either side of our region. If major infrastructure development is going to happen in Alaska, it must go through our region. The Trans Alaska Pipeline System and the proposed LNG line are two examples of such infrastructure.

What do you hope the future holds for Ahtna?

Ahtna gave much for the development of Alaska and it is my hope that we see positive change in how our lands have been historically treated. Two of Ahtna's traditional villages, Dry Creek and Gulkana, were forced to move to accommodate Alaska's early road and airport development. No compensation has ever been provided to the Ahtna people whose traditional lands were taken during this silent, sad chapter in Alaska's history. In the early 1900s. Gulkana's village was literally cut in half and villagers were forced to relocate when the road was put in. In 1973, the village's cemetery with over 100 gravesites was transferred to the State of Alaska in error and the village has been working on the return of these sacred lands ever since. We view our land protection responsibilities and fighting for our customary and traditional hunting and fishing rights as cultural survival.

Our businesses are growing and continue to give back to our shareholders and villages. We are working tirelessly to pass on our beautiful and unique culture and history, our lands, and our businesses to the next generation of Ahtna leaders.

KONIAG INC.

Koniag is owned by more than 3,800 Alaska Native shareholders. "We are the Sugpiaq-Alutiiq, a culture that has thrived for thousands of years. We make our decisions with the understanding that we will continue to prosper as a distinct people. We have traditionally relied on the land and sea for subsistence and our livelihood. We have always been sensitive to the cycles of the seasons and have recognized the need to plan ahead in order to be prepared for the future," states the company. The Alutiiq value of caring for community is embedded in everything they do--every service, decision, and investment is a reflection of its commitment to living its culture, according to Koniag. "Koniag will continue to celebrate our traditions and values, protect our lands, advocate for our communities, and enrich the lives of our shareholders, descendants, and employees at every turn."

Shauna Hegna, Koniag's president, talks about the company's bright future and expanding benefits and opportunities for the corporation's shareholders.

What has been or is your favorite initiative or program of 2019?

One exciting initiative we've been able to expand on this year is our youth scholarship program Koniag has awarded more than 100 youth scholarships this year, allowing children and teens to attend athletic, cultural, and artistic camps. We more than doubled our investment in that area from $19,000 to $53,000 in 2019.

What new developments are your shareholders saying they are most excited about?

Everything we do at Koniag is driven by the goal of providing meaningful benefits to our shareholders and descendants. With that in mind, we've been able to implement two recent developments that were suggested by our shareholders. Our shareholders told us they wanted to see Koniag begin offering a benefit for our elders, and in November 2018 we distributed the very first elder benefit. Our shareholders also indicated they wanted Koniag to explore the idea of establishing a Settlement Trust, which was overwhelmingly approved by our voting shareholders at our annual meeting last fall. Our shareholders are excited about these new initiatives, and we're glad to listen and implement their ideas.

To what do you attribute your success as a regional ANC?

We believe a rising tide lifts all boats. At Koniag, collaboration is more than just a buzzword, it is a part of everything we do. Our success is deeply intertwined with that of our community and our people. We believe that by lifting up our communities and partnering with like-minded organizations, we have been able to realize six years of financial growth at Koniag and make our communities a better place to live.

What makes your region economically unique?

Our region is unique in many ways--from the unparalleled beauty of Kodiak Island that leads to a robust tourism industry to the strong, diverse fisheries. Koniag is...

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