In 1867, during Andrew Johnson’s incumbency as President of The United States of America and the rule of Tsar Alexander the II of the Russian empire, the USA purchased land from Russia that is now known as the state of Alaska. Though globally this was viewed as progress, to the local natives it meant their lands would be encroached upon by a new nation.
In 1971, during the Nixon administration, The Alaskan Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), spear headed by Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska, was signed into law and with it a new domestic oil industry was born, bringing about The Trans America Pipeline System (TAPS) one of Alaska’s greatest assets. With the revenue generation, rights came into question. This lead to a definition for native land patents and the establishment of the Native Corporations creating 12 land based corporations. Native Corporations are holding companies which invest in municipal and utility subsidiaries set up with a share system for members of their respective corporation. In order to possess shares, one must have been granted shares upon the formation of the native corporation or gifted shares by a family member. Each Native Corporation is a for profit company that pays dividends out to the shareholders. In the case of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC), dividends are paid out quarterly. Above and beyond capital investment, the Native Corporations serve the native community connecting shareholders with conservation efforts, heritage lessons, access to scholarships, as well as employment opportunities.
Daniel Cheyette, the BBNC’s esquire, hosted a presentation for us originally composed for a student research group from Brown University. Dan advised about the importance of BBNC to the community structure and that diversification is the focus. This can be seen in the investment BBNC has made into guide lodges and air transportation. We then heard from Chad, a native intern working at BBNC who is also a shareholder and student at The University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA). Recently, he has been working on transferring land patent data into Esrie Arc GIS maps. We also talked to Casey Sifsof, a shareholder at BBNC currently directing the Bristol Bay Native Place Names project which tells the unique stories of their community members. We are grateful for the opportunity and extend our thanks to Nelli Williams of Trout Unlimited Alaska (TUA) for coordinating the meeting.
Mac’s Fun Fact:
When polled, 80% of BBNC shareholders oppose the Pebble Mine development.