"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.
For today’s profile, young Alaska Native shareholder Brendon Doyle emphasizes the importance of business management for Indigenous Alaskans. As someone starting out his own business career, he takes inspiration from ANCSA’s history, which has further confirmed to him that “Alaska Natives are some of the most adaptable and ingenious people on the planet.”
Doyle, who’s Inupiaq name is Ashaana Killbear, was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. He is a Business Analyst at JL Properties, Inc. | First Alaskan Capital Partners, based in Anchorage. Doyle is a part of the Killbear family from Utqiagvik, and is a proud shareholder of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation.
What motivated you to pursue this line of work?
My dad has always been a role model of mine. From the time I was very young to middle school he worked for Arctic Slope Regional Corporation. I remember visiting him at Arctic Slope Regional Corporation’s office and being awed by the whole experience. I thought my dad was the coolest so his job must be too. As I worked through university, I discovered I had a real passion for finance and economics and knew I wanted to work in that field in Alaska. An internship with Arctic Slope Regional Corporation in 2019 at one of their subsidiaries – Alaska Growth Capital – got me in the door to this work. I graduated in 2021 with a BA in Finance and Economics from the University of Alaska Anchorage and have worked at JL Properties, Inc. ever since.
What do you see as the biggest challenge for the Alaska Native community to tackle in the next 50 years?
One of the biggest challenges I see for Alaska Native communities is how to handle the challenges surrounding blood quantum. Alaska Native corporations are built to improve the lives of all their shareholders, including those Alaska Natives who are less than one-quarter blood quantum. Alaska Natives cannot become “more” Native and the denial to resources and traditional activities based on blood quantum hurts us as a people and is a threat to our continued way of life.
In your opinion, what are some solutions that the community can work towards to achieve these goals?
The first step towards a solution is always acknowledging that there is a problem. Some Native corporations like Sealaska and others have researched the issue and are exploring steps towards addressing the issue, with the input of all shareholders. However, I believe that when Alaska Natives collaborate on an issue, like they did with ANCSA, real progress can be made. I would love to see a collaborative effort made by regional, village, and tribal entities to come up with a solution that is best for all Alaska Natives, not just one group.
What is one initiative related to Alaska Native Corporations and/or Alaska Native tribes that you view as a success?
I believe that the support and resources provided to empower Alaska Natives to succeed in higher education has been outstanding. Whether it is through scholarship or internship programs, I believe that by promoting academic success, the Alaska Native community only gets stronger.
Is there anything you would like to see Alaska Native Corporations focus more on in the next few decades?
I would like to see Alaska Native Corporations collaborate more on business ventures. When ANCSA was founded, it divided the Alaska Native community in many ways and resulted in Alaska Native people competing to accomplish the same goals. As time goes on and the resources we benefit from dwindle, it's imperative that we work together to create a better future for all Alaska Natives, not just one region or village.
What is one of your favorite Alaska Native community / cultural memories?
I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in the First Alaskans Institute summer internship program in 2020. Through the program, I learned a lot about cultural reconnection and education. From language lessons to speaking with some of the leaders that made ANSCA happen, and just spending time with other Alaska Native professionals my age, I have never felt more connected to my culture. Having been born and raised outside of my region, it was a very meaningful and memorable experience.
What is the most important lesson you learned from older generations?
The most important lesson I have learned from elders is the necessity to be adaptable in an ever-changing environment. Alaska Natives are some of the most adaptable and ingenious people on the planet, which became even more clear when ANCSA was passed. ANCSA required a monumental societal shift and a phrase that I heard that describes it very well is “Society now told us that we were a corporation, and to act like one. It would be like sitting a bunch of Wall Street people down in the Arctic and saying, ‘Now go catch a whale.’” Since ANCSA passed we now have some of the largest and best corporations in Alaska.
What is one word that comes to mind when you think of ANCSA?
Impactful. ANCSA has impacted Alaska Native communities in both positive and negative ways. At its best, ANCSA should be a living and breathing document that needs to continually be interpreted and amended to best serve its intended purpose: to settle land claims and thus provide for the economic benefit of Native people from all regions of Alaska.
What is something you think people should know about your work, that most people don’t?
Although I work for a real estate development and investment firm, most of my time is spent analyzing investments in a variety of asset classes across industries and geographies; in some cases alongside JL’s investment partners, Alaska Native Corporations.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
If it weren’t for all my mentors along the way, I wouldn’t be here. I am incredibly blessed to be in the position I am, and thankful to the Alaska Native community for providing me with many of those opportunities.
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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