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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.

Germaine Salmine

Germaine Salmine, Alutiiq, was born in Kodiak and currently lives in Anchorage. She is an enrolled citizen and council member of the Tangirnaq Native Village, and a shareholder of both Leisnoi and Koniag, Inc. She is the senior manager of Marketing and Communications at Strategies 360 and helped produce a film honoring the 50 anniversary of ANCSA for the ANCSA Regional Association. 

What motivated you to pursue this line of work?

I have always had the desire to serve my Native community. Prior to joining S360, I worked for the Koniag Education Foundation and the Seattle Indian Health Board. I’ve also worked in a variety of community-based organizations and have over seven years of experience in the non-profit sector. Giving back and working with the Native community is extremely rewarding. The success of our people benefits us all.

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

Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) provide benefits to shareholders and descendants, including post-secondary education and youth scholarships, annual dividends, support for elders, and recently, financial assistance through the CARES Act funding. However, there is still more that ANCs can do than solely provide dividends and scholarships. Over the next 50 years, I hope to see a stronger support system that helps the next generation of Alaska Native leaders and gives them the tools they need to be successful.

What are some solutions that the community can work towards to achieve these goals?

I’d love to see us build off the current benefits ANCs offer, while developing more internships and programs that provide Alaska Native high school and college students the tools they need to build a successful career. Our youth need more exposure to real-life experiences. Whether they want to go to a 4-year college or stay in their community, Alaska Native youth should have the options and the means to support their ambitions.

In addition to providing support to younger shareholders and descendants, we as a community can improve connections with those who are beyond our state lines. It’s important for descendants and future shareholders to become interested in their culture early, and there have been excellent programs developed to connect our people with their culture and create more opportunities for our youth to practice subsistence and learn more about their history, language, and art. We, as a community, need to continue to invest in these programs and build off their success.

What’s one initiative related to Alaska Native corporations or Alaska Native tribes that you view as a success?

I’ve learned so much about the settlement act by working on the ANCSA at 50 video project. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to our ANCSA leaders and learning about the 1991 amendments. Initially, 20 years after ANCSA’s passage, corporations could have given their Alaska Native shareholders the option to sell their shares on the open market. The 1991 amendments prohibited ANCs from going public and allowing shareholders to sell their stock. Thankfully, not one ANC has ever voted to amend their articles of corporation. If ANCs would have gone public, things would be very different from what they are today. Shareholders would no longer have ownership in their regional Native corporation.

What’s the most important lesson you learned from older generations?

One quote that sticks out in my mind is something Ruth Dawson, an elder and Koniag Shareholder from Kodiak, said during the filming of Koniag’s 50th anniversary project: “You have to know where you’re from to know where you’re going.”

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

Inclusive.

What is something you think people should know about ANCSA, that most people don’t?

I don’t think most people realize the lengths that ANCSA’s creators went to to ensure shareholders and descendants have the benefits they have today. Many people see the outcome of ANCSA, the success of Alaska Native Corporations, and the dividends provided to shareholders as solely an additional income, however, ANCs are much more than that. They fund education, elder benefits, cultural revitalization, and more.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

As someone who has had the opportunity to learn more about ANCSA, I strongly encourage everyone to learn about the settlement act. It will give you a profound sense of gratitude for our elders and leaders who fought for us.

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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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