The relatively short history of the corporations formed by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act is one of determined perseverance. The corporations established in the early 1970s were charged with the responsibility of creating economic opportunity to support their region and shareholders, using surface and/or subsurface real estate and money conveyed as part of the settlement. But experience participating in the corporate sphere isn't something one can transfer via signed agreement, and many corporations struggled in their early years.
For Bering Straits Native Corporation (BSNC), one of the corporation's most challenging years was 1986, when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. According to a four-part BSNC Land Series by Vice President of Media and External Affairs Matt Ganley, "BSNC made errors, and in some cases was the recipient of unscrupulous or inadequate investment and business advice. Companies were purchased and investments made with the long-term goal of developing a business portfolio that would enhance the original ANCSA settlement. These often proved to be companies that looked promising but had little value as long-range growth strategies. As the late Charlie Johnson once said, 'We bought a tire company with no tires and a construction company with no equipment.'"
What followed was a "series of complex agreements designed to protect BSNC's land base, repay the village corporations for the lost settlement funds, and bring BSNC back from bankruptcy."
And BSNC has ultimately been successful in attaining those goals, garnering more than $378 million in gross revenue in fiscal year 2019 and using earnings to support shareholders, descendants, and the region with scholarships, bereavement assistance, and elder and shareholder dividends, among other programs, funds, and activities.
Drawing from Experience
BSNC has grown as a company in large part because the leadership driving the company has grown and evolved. President and CEO Gail R. Schubert is an original BSNC shareholder, an Inupiaq Eskimo born and raised in Unalakleet.
Schubert has been passionate about education and personal growth from a young age. Her older sister, Rose, went to school and earned a nursing degree. "I idolized her as a child... ! wanted to be just like her, and that really cemented in my brain that I was going to continue my education after high school," Schubert says.
Schubert's parents also impressed upon their children the value of going to college; she describes it as a focus on education without being oppressive. "When my mother was much younger, she wanted to leave Unalakleet and get her nursing degree. I believe her mother told her that she couldn't do that because she had to stay and help raise her siblings. And so my mom told me that when...