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Meghan Sullivan
Indian Country Today

"There are as many ways to be Indigenous as there are Native people in the state, and because our communities are in such a state of flux and have changed so quickly over just a few short generations, we are all still figuring it out,” writes Cordelia Qiġñaaq Kellie, Inupiaq. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was one of those recent changes. As with any other topic, there are countless different ways that individual Indigenous Alaskans and the 200 + communities they belong to view ANCSA and navigate the dynamics it created.

Leading up to the 50th anniversary of ANCSA on Dec. 17, Indian Country Today will be highlighting a wide range of these experiences, including insights from the elders who fought for the land, perspectives from current leaders today, and future goals from younger generations.

Angela Jenkins

For day 3 in the countdown, Angela Jenkins shares her thoughts on Alaska Native tribes, corporations, and community advocacy. 

Angela Anicia Benedict Jenkins, Koyukon and Yup’ik, is from Emmonak, Alaska. Her Yup’ik name is Kayiraya, and she’s a member of Chuloonawick Native Village and a shareholder of Calista and The Kuskokwim Corporation. Jenkins has served on the Alaska Native Professional Association board, and was a First Alaskans Institute Public Policy Fellow. She currently works in tribal operations. 

What motivated you to pursue this line of work?

I’ve always worked in communications and the nonprofit sector, my career and views naturally began to merge as I began to use my voice and platform to speak up.

What do you see as the biggest challenge for the Alaska Native community to tackle in the next 50 years?

There are many challenges we face, and we all face different challenges. One thing I know about our community and our people is our ability to adapt and succeed in anything we do. One goal I have for our people is to focus on and really work on suicide prevention.

In your opinion, what are some solutions that the community can work towards to achieve these goals?

Suicide prevention is many things, having access to behavioral health services, language revitalization, access to housing, protecting our subsistence way of life (food security), domestic violence awareness and prevention, substance abuse programs, etc.

What is one initiative related to Alaska Native Corporations and/or Alaska Native tribes that you view as a success?

Compacting. I believe the safety, education and wellbeing of tribal citizens should be decided by tribal citizens. We know what we need.

Is there anything you would like to see Alaska Native Corporations focus more on in the next few decades?

Renewable energy.

What is one of your favorite Alaska Native communities / cultural memories?

Cama-I Festival is one of my favorite cultural events. I love to hear Heart of the Drum.

What is the most important lesson you learned from older generations?

"We take care of ourselves so we can take care of others.” -Billy Charles, my great uncle

What is a piece of advice you have for younger generations?

Speak up. ANCSA itself came to pass because our people spoke up.

What is one word that comes to mind when you think of ANCSA?

Vision, the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.

What is something you think people should know about you, your community, or your work, that most people don’t?

I think ANCSA needs to be taught in every level of academia. A colleague of mine once pointed out that you can get a business degree here in Alaska and never once learn about ANCSA corporations, subsidiaries, tribes and IRAs. Yet, we (this community) play a large part in not only Alaska’s economy but also the Lower 48 states.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I believe we have learned a lot in the last 50 years, we have done well. I also believe there is also room for improvement, it’s called a dialectic, when two things are true at once. Listen to our young leaders, they watched this generation and learned from our mistakes as well as successes.

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This story is part of Indian Country Today’s series on the 50th anniversary of the landmark Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Funding for ICT’s ANCSA project is provided in part by the Alaska Center for Excellence in Journalism. Stay updated on ICT’s ANCSA project using #ANCSA50 and at https://indiancountrytoday.com/tag/ancsa-50.

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