Friday, January 14, 2011

Alaska Native corporation descendants

"At what point in our growing population do we draw a line that would further disenfranchise our descendents from benefiting from ANCSA? This very important issue needs a well thought out process by all Alaska Natives so that our descendents can benefit from ANCSA in perpetuity."

I thought this was a pretty relevant issue brought up in the Cordova Times. As an "after born" myself - an Alaska Native born after 1971, and therefore ineligible to be a sharholder of a corporation - I found it irrelevant to get involved in my corporation for most of my life.

My corporation is now one of only two (I believe) corporations that voted on allowing descendants of original shareholders to become shareholders themselves. So for the past two years, I have been a shareholder allowed to vote, receive dividends, and have gained a little interest in the company. What was interesting at the time, I believe the corporation expected a flood of descendants signing up to become shareholders - but that ddn't happen. Or at least not to the extent they expected. I think they didn't consider a few things:

1) Alaska Native people my age have never been allowed to do much with the corporations. If my corp didn't vote on the descendant issue the way it did, I would not have any say in what happens with the corporation. Quite honestly, I'm still not a decisive factor in the decisions, but I do get to vote on board members and (I hope) other decisions.

2) I don't think corporations have done a great job showing shareholders or descendants why they should get involved, and why ANCSA is so important to keep improving. The people involved in the original settlement know the before and after for Alaska Native land claims. I've lived my entire life in an Alaska with ANCSA. Why does ANCSA matter to me?

3) Shareholders are spread across Alaska and the United States now more than ever. A huge percentage of any corporation's shareholders doesn't live in the area it is based. I don't. How is my corporation relevant to my life?

4) We seem to be in a state of having the issues "settled." But land was yesterday's push. How can what was settled then be brought into help today's issue. I know corporation's will have different views on this, but I believe they have an absolute responsibility to address the welfare of their people, including culture, social issues, health, and more. By this, I don't mean to say that they don't. I think my corporation in the last decade has done an exceptional job focusing on culture.

5) It's not just about the money for shareholders. And don't get me wrong, I've seen shareholders from other corporations mae it all about the money. The corporations should be allowed to be corporations and make money - and seeing the success of Native corporations be railed against in the general public simply for doing what it was created to do is no small frustration. But first, I'd like to show people MY dividend - the last one I got from my corporation. As a hint, I could fill up my small car twice with the funds - my friend with her big truck couldn't. Don't get my wrong, I appreciate that much. But when I'm asked why I struggle to pay for college when I have Native money rolling in, I'd love a little perspective on the "rolling in" amount. There are a few corporations doing better, but the larger majority of corps are doing about what mine is, or worse.

What I mean is I don't believe my generation is looking to my corporation primarily for personal dividends. I want my corporation to operate every day thinking about culture, thinking about our health, thinking about the next hundred years and Alaska Native people thriving, and giving to the world community.

I want my corporation to work hard to invest the money it makes well - it is a corporation. But I also require it to consider what the land represents to my people - health, life, culture, history, future. The land we lost was settled for what the corporations now have. Agree or don't agree on whether it was a good or bad thing - it is what it is. Money is not a good enough replacement for me for culture and life and a future lasting longer than myself. I hope, in the coming years, I see ever more development from corporations encouraging and supporting just those things.

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