Staking our claim:


CIRI’s land story

On Jan. 3, 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs into law the Alaska Statehood Act officially making the Last Frontier the 49th state of the union. Courtesy of University of Alaska Fairbanks UAF-1976-21-289.
On Jan. 3, 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs into law the Alaska Statehood Act officially making the Last Frontier the 49th state of the union. Courtesy of University of Alaska Fairbanks UAF-1976-21-289.

On January 3, 1959, almost six months after signing the Alaska Statehood Bill, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sat before the members of an Alaskan delegation to Washington, D.C., and signed a proclamation affirming that Alaska had become the forty-ninth state. The ceremonial declaration ended a 42-year struggle, but it set off another significant dispute that would take decades—and several acts of Congress—to settle.

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), passed in 1971, would become the largest land claims settlement in United States history and the first settlement of its kind between Native Americans and the federal government. ANCSA settled Alaska Native aboriginal land claims in exchange for title to about 44 million acres of land, a $963 million cash payment from the federal treasury and additional oil revenue sharing. In an effort to enable statewide economic development, the act also created 200 village corporations and twelve Alaska-based regional corporations, including Cook Inlet Region, Inc. (CIRI).

CIRIosity Podcast

We examine the history of CIRI’s land entitlements and how the company finessed what was originally worthless “mountaintops and glaciers” into income-producing lands that set CIRI on a path to prosperity.

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But the passage of ANCSA wasn’t simple, nor was it the end of the Alaska Native people’s effort to reclaim the lands that had served as their home and livelihood for thousands of years. From the early days of ANCSA, through rounds of negotiations with the state and federal governments leading to the 1976 Cook Inlet Land Exchange, to the finalization of land selections for Cook Inlet village corporations, CIRI leaders consistently sought fair settlement on behalf of the people of its region.

CIRI’s success today is rooted in those early decision and negotiations. The creativity, tenacity and forward-thinking employed by CIRI’s leaders during the ANCSA and Land Exchange negotiations set the tone for how the company would do business and provide for its shareholders and descendants long-term.

***


Early Days

••••

Long before statehood, Alaska’s lands were in dispute. Though Alaska Native people are thought to have occupied Alaska’s lands as many as 9,000 – 14,000 years ago, Russia eventually colonized the area from 1744 to 1867. When Russia sold Alaska to the United States, the treaty between the two countries disregarded the Native peoples’ centuries-old occupation of Alaska’s lands. The treaty conveyed ownership of all public and vacant lands that were not individual property to the U.S.—and since the lands of “uncivilized” tribes were not regarded as individual property, Alaska Native lands would essentially be subject to the whims of the federal government and whatever regulations it devised.

Village Visits

Within the Cook Inlet region boundaries, which approximate the traditional homeland of the Dena’ina Athabascans, are villages and group sites recognized under ANCSA. In 2015, CIRI visited each village to explore what local life is like—the attractions, the challenges, the opportunities and the history. Click on the links below for a virtual visit to each of the seven villages in the region.

In the years between the U.S. possession of Alaska and the Alaska Statehood Act, the ownership of Alaska’s lands remained in question. In 1884, an act of Congress stated that Alaska Native people should be allowed to possess the lands they occupied or used, however, Congress failed to lay out the guidelines by which Alaska Native people could procure the title to those lands. Progress on the issue stalled until 1958, when the Alaska Statehood Act made settling the dispute a priority.

***


Land Freeze

••••

With the passage of the Statehood Act, the State government of Alaska was granted the right to select 103 million acres of land from the public domain. Native lands were exempt from selection; however, while the act recognized the right of Alaska Native people to the lands they used and occupied, it failed to lay out any provisions by which Alaska Native people could legally maintain that use and occupancy.

As a result, the State seized lands for its selections that were occupied by Native villages or being used by Native people. The U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management began to process the State’s land selections—without notifying the affected villages or acknowledging Native claims already on file.


Now under even greater pressure to quickly resolve land claims issues, the U.S. Senate passed legislation in 1970 that marked the first significant step toward settlement.


In 1962, Native villages began to band together, creating the Tundra Times to voice its concerns and filing administrative protests against State land selections. Nearly a decade of protests, court cases and land “freezes” ensued. When large oil deposits were discovered at Prudhoe Bay in 1968, the conflict over land ownership intensified, since land claims had to be settled before any production could begin. In 1969, just before he left office, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall formalized a land freeze he’d first enacted in 1966 on the disposition of all federal land in Alaska until Native land claims could be settled by Congress. In addition to preserving Native land rights, the freeze also blocked construction of an 800-mile crude oil pipeline from Alaska’s North Slope to Valdez.

Now under even greater pressure to quickly resolve land claims issues, the U.S. Senate passed legislation in 1970 that marked the first significant step toward settlement. Though this initial bill granted title of just 10 million acres of land—less than 3 percent of the lands to which Alaska Native villages had valid legal claim—and cash compensation of $1 billion, it represented the Alaska Native people’s first land settlement victory. Propelled by this success, the Alaska Native people lobbied for the land that was rightfully theirs. By 1971, Alaska Native representatives had mounted a strong campaign and recruited several co-sponsors for a bill that would convey to them 40 million acres of land.

On December 18, 1971, President Richard Nixon signed Public Law 92-203: The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

***


  • 1958
    Passage of Alaska Statehood Act.

  • 1968
    Discovery of large oil deposits at Prudhoe Bay; land claims must be settled before production can begin.

  • 1969
    Secretary Udall formalizes a “land freeze” to protect Native interests while Congress considers land claims.

  • 1971
    Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) is passed.

  • 1973
    CIRI Board authorizes lawsuit over the inadequacy of selection withdrawal; CIRI seeks revised land selection withdrawals to more closely match the land traditionally used by shareholders and files CIRI v. Morton in U.S. District Court.

  • 1975
    CIRI, the State of Alaska and the U.S. Department of the Interior execute the CIRI Land Exchange, restructuring CIRI’s ANCSA land entitlement.

  • 1976
    Legislation enacting the CIRI Land Exchange passes Congress.




“The Beginning of a Great Era”

••••

“Congress finds and declares that there is an immediate need for a fair and just settlement of all claims by Natives and Native groups of Alaska, based on aboriginal land claims.” Those are the first words of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

In the detailed pages of the carefully crafted legislation, ANCSA awarded Alaska Native people surface and subsurface rights to 44 million acres of land, a settlement of nearly $1 billion as compensation for lands not returned and the creation of regional and village corporations to organize the allocation of the land and money.

After decades of debate, the passage of the act represented a significant victory for Alaska Native people. When the act was signed into law, the Tundra Times heralded it as “the beginning of a great era for the Native people of Alaska.”

This is a caption.
A “land freeze” formalized in 1969 by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall temporarily blocked construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which put pressure on the U.S Senate to resolve land claims issues.

One of the key mandates of ANCSA was the formation of twelve for-profit corporations that would represent twelve geographic regions of the state. (Later, a thirteenth corporation, representing Alaska Native people who had moved outside of the state, would be created.) ANCSA would provide seed capital and land to each corporation, and Alaska Native people born by the enactment date (December 17, 1971) would enroll in regional and/or village corporations, receiving 100 shares of stock. In this way, ANCSA established a framework for corporations to provide for the economic, education, social and cultural well-being of current and future generations of shareholders.

With regional boundaries that roughly follow the traditional Dena’ina territory of southcentral Alaska, CIRI was one of those 12 original corporations, incorporated on June 8, 1972.

***



Terms and Conditions

••••

For CIRI, ANCSA was soon revealed to be a good news/bad news scenario. The good news: CIRI was entitled to 1.25 million acres of land and an additional 2.25 million acres of subsurface estate and would be able to select lands from within its region “similar in character” and located close to the villages comprising the southcentral area. The bad news: Much of the quality land in the Cook Inlet region was already spoken for by state or private interests, except for federal withdrawals, like the Kenai Moose Range and military reservations. CIRI was left with acres of mountainous and remote lands from which to make its selections.

Roy Huhndorf talks about how the Cook Inlet Land Exchange became the central focus for CIRI in its early years.

Roy Huhndorf, CIRI president from 1975 – 1995, recalls, “A lot of the land that had been prescribed for our selection by the act had already been given away to the state under the state’s entitlement…and to compound matters, the Secretary of the Interior at the time was given the power under [ANCSA] to make adjustments for the kinds of lands that we were prescribed to select […] He said that since there was no other land available, CIRI would just have to make withdrawals for its selections from mountainous and glaciated areas around Cook Inlet.”


“A lot of the land that had been prescribed for our selection by the act had already been given away…[and] the Secretary of the Interior said that since there was no other land available, CIRI would just have to make its selections from mountainous and glaciated areas around Cook Inlet.”
– Roy Huhndorf


In March of 1972, when then-U.S. Secretary of the Interior Walter Hickel chose to give the State of Alaska and federal agencies the last available lands in the Cook Inlet region that would have fulfilled ANCSA’s promise, CIRI protested. Under law, CIRI was entitled to about 54 townships of land. There was little progress on the matter, though, and in 1973, CIRI filed suit against the secretary.

Michael Smith, the state’s lead negotiator in the Cook Inlet Land Exchange, discusses how the state was woefully prepared to embark on the negotiations in which the stakes were huge.

From 1973 through 1975, the company would wage its battle in the courts. Meanwhile, seeking to achieve a fair land settlement, CIRI also entered into negotiations with the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Congress and, eventually, the State of Alaska.

Around this time, Michael Smith became the new director of the Alaska Division of Lands for the Department of Natural Resources. Smith had come from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, where he had worked on ANCSA issues. “I was appalled when I got to DNR, which was responsible for basically all of Alaska’s natural resources, to find out there were only two people in the entire department who had any clue about ANCSA,” Smith recalls.

CIRI’s first major conveyance of state lands was about 300,000 acres from the Beluga pool. To mark the importance of the occasion, a ceremony was held in January 1979. Michael Smith, at left, represented the State of Alaska at the ceremony. Robert Arnold, center, represented the Bureau of Land Management, and Roy Huhndorf, right, represented CIRI.
CIRI’s first major conveyance of state lands was about 300,000 acres from the Beluga pool. To mark the importance of the occasion, a ceremony was held in January 1979. Michael Smith, at left, represented the State of Alaska at the ceremony. Robert Arnold, center, represented the Bureau of Land Management, and Roy Huhndorf, right, represented CIRI.

He soon realized that as CIRI negotiated with the federal government, land exchanges were being mediated that would have a significant impact on the state. For instance, one piece of land in discussions was the Kenai oil and gas fields. The state was entitled to 90 percent of the federal royalty share from this Swanson River oil field.

“At that point, I realized we needed to get involved here, even though my predecessor had said this is a federal settlement that doesn’t affect the state,” Smith says.

On October 4, 1976, President Gerald Ford signed legislation that ratified the Terms and Conditions for Land Consolidation and Management in the Cook Inlet Area. Known colloquially as the Terms and Conditions, or T&C, the agreement laid out the provisions for land selection between CIRI, the state and the federal government.

Under the T&C, CIRI would get its full entitlement, in part by agreeing to select half of its land from outside its own region, freeing up lands for state, communities and public interests throughout Southcentral Alaska. The corporation would be able to make its out-of-region selections, though, only after village corporations had made theirs.

A hard battle had been won, but for CIRI—a company still in its infancy—the work had only just begun.

***




Structure and Implementation

••••

The structure set forth by the T&C, says former CIRI President and CEO Margie Brown, was “a good start.” But, she adds, “I think the real benefit came to CIRI through implementation, through looking at what those terms were and seeing how in the implementation things could even be improved. So it’s through the combination of first having the structure, and then being willing to look at that structure and say, ‘Okay, now how can we improve [our situation] within the implementation?’ That is how the value really flowed to CIRI.”

Margie Brown discuss how the young and aggressive land department was fearless when it came to selecting the lands that would define the corporations success.

Once the T&C had been set, certain conveyances of land proceeded quickly. Some of the federal lands that would go to CIRI’s entitlement—such as the Johnson mineral tract and subsurface estate in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge—were specified by the document. But CIRI was also granted the right to acquire federal properties in Alaska declared surplus by the federal government. The company was entitled to select approximately 500,000 acres of Alaska state lands from six state land pools. In the latter case, the corporation would be competing with other boroughs and state land agencies to make its selections. To get the most out of the company’s entitlement, CIRI representatives would have to act quickly, creatively and decisively.


“I think the real benefit came to CIRI through implementation, through looking at what those terms were and seeing how in the implementation things could even be improved.”
— Margie Brown


The early planning that Brown described was key to CIRI land selections—and so was a combination of traits displayed by CIRI’s young Land Department.

“I think if we had known of the significance of what we were doing, we probably would have been a little bit more fearful than we were,” Brown says. “We were not afraid. And that turned out to be one of the most beneficial things for CIRI because it was this young group of basically kids […] going in and making these selections and negotiating with the borough, the state and federal government, and it was disarming, in some ways. But we knew what we were doing, and we knew the lands we wanted to go after.”

***

Key People

George Miller

George Miller

  • 1972: CIRI President
  • 1974-76: Board Member
Ralph A. Johnson

Ralph A. Johnson

  • 1973-74: CIRI President
  • 1973-76: Board Member
Larry Oskolkoff

Larry Oskolkoff

  • 1974-76: Land Manager
  • 1974-78: Board Member
Roy Huhndorf

Roy Huhndorf

  • 1975–95: CIRI President and CEO
  • 1972-98 and 2002-present: CIRI Board member
Carl Marrs

Carl Marrs

  • 1976-78: Land Department Manager
  • 1989-92: Senior Vice President
  • 1992-94: CIRI President and COO
  • 1995-04: CIRI President and CEO
Margie Brown

Margie Brown

  • 1976-78: Land Planner
  • 1978-81: Land Manager
  • 1981-83: Vice President, Land
  • 1993-95: Senior Vice President
  • 1984-87: CIRI Board Member
  • 2002-04: CIRI Board Member
  • 2005–12: CIRI President and CEO
Kirk McGee

Kirk McGee

  • 1976-80: Land Planner
  • 1981: Director, Land Planning
  • 1989-91: Vice President, Real Estate Projects
  • 1992-05: Vice President, Real Estate
George Kriste

George Kriste

  • 1977-90: Executive Vice President
Monroe Price

Monroe Price

  • Mid-1970s: CIRI’s attorney during the Cook Inlet Land Exchange
Frank Klett

Frank Klett

  • 1983-86: Vice President, Administration and Planning
Steve Hillard

Steve Hillard

  • 1986-88: Vice President, Resources
Keith Sanders

Keith Sanders

  • 2005-08: Senior Vice President, Land and Legal Affairs
Sophie Minich

Sophie Minich

  • Current: CIRI President and CEO
Ethan Schutt

Ethan Schutt

  • Current: Senior Vice President, Land and Energy


The Swanson River Unit

••••

Immediately upon passage of the T&C, the land exchange was challenged by interests from the state of Alaska. But while the courts deliberated, CIRI got to work.

Brown came to work for CIRI in 1976 as an assistant land planner in CIRI’s Lands Department. One of her first tasks was to gain a better understanding of state ownership.

Kirk McGee and Carl Marrs study CIRI land selection maps in 1978.
Kirk McGee and Carl Marrs study
CIRI land selection maps in 1978.

“We were basically still in the water, waiting for those litigations to proceed […] We decided that we were going to take the time to be prepared. I ultimately knew, pretty much, within those half a million acres, who owned what. We spent a lot of time looking at what would be available, and so in March of 1978, we were ready to go and we immediately started making land selections.”


“We were basically still in the water, waiting for those litigations to proceed, [so] we decided that we were going to take the time to be prepared.”
— Margie Brown


Hunkered down over land laws and maps, sorting out which lands would be available for CIRI’s selection once the court had made its decision, Brown realized that CIRI wasn’t allowed to select lands that were currently leased as part of the Swanson River field. Instead, CIRI selected acreage around the perimeter of the field. Brown then saw an opening that could bring CIRI rewards.

Margie Brown talks about receiving the first check for oil royalties because of CIRI’s land selection adjacent to the Swanson River oil field. For reasons unknown to Margie, it arrived at CIRI with her name on it!

“In the new land exchange, we were not to get any of the lands within the Swanson River unit—that was what upset the state in the first place and what got the state involved [in the exchange],” Brown says. “So in the new negotiated document, our lands went all around the producing area of the Swanson River unit. I read section 14-G of the act (ANCSA), and that says, basically, when the federal government and a Native Corporation share lands within a lease, then the revenues from that least get divided based on the ratio of who owns what.”

Even though the oil wasn’t directly on CIRI land, since the lease boundaries included CIRI’s new acreage, Brown sought to have the federal agencies enforce the pro ratio provisions of the act. She took her discovery to CIRI’s vice president, then presented her findings to the U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Land Management.

“They issued instructions to the oil companies to start paying the royalties, with CIRI getting its fair share,” Brown says. “Well, this resulted in tens of millions of dollars.”

***


Kenai Gas Field Royalties

••••

In addition to negotiating for the Swanson River-area lands, the Land Department was also able to strategically select additional lands within the Kenai gas field that were not initially meant to go to CIRI. The acquisition of the Kenai gas field lands would play a major part in CIRI’s future success, but it would not have happened if it hadn’t been for the creative thinking and fearlessness of CIRI’s young Land Department.

As CIRI made its land selections from state pools, each selection had to be reviewed and approved by several state departments. Looking through the state lands listed as available for selection, the Land Department noticed that a large chunk of the Kenai gas field had been included.

Margie Brown and Kirk McGee.
Margie Brown and Kirk McGee.

“I remember Kirk [McGee, former CIRI vice president of Real Estate] saying at the time, ‘Well, we can’t select those,’” Brown says. “And I said, ‘Why can’t we? We should select them and let [the state] tell us no.’ So what we did is we made this big, long selection […] And we included the townships for the Kenai gas field. It doesn’t say, ‘Kenai gas field’; it says, ‘township five north,’ or whatever. It looks innocuous until you plot it out on a map.”

CIRI Land submitted its selections, which made their rounds through the state agencies, each of which had 30 days for review and comment. When the comments came back, none of the agencies had objected to the selections. Deeds were drawn up, and public notice of the selections, published in Anchorage and Kenai newspapers, ran for more than 60 days.

“So here were are now, 60 or 90 days into the process; still nobody is saying anything about our selections,” Brown describes.


“The state benefitted tremendously from gas royalties from the Kenai gas fields. I can remember the commissioner at the time saying to me, You know, CIRI's absolutely right; we've been underpaid on this…That's an example of where CIRI's getting involved certainly brought the state some big bucks.”
— Michael Smith


The final stage of review was done by the Bureau of Land Management. Brown and the rest of the Land Department waited an 60 additional days.

“Finally, they say, ‘Come get the deeds,’” she remembers. “So I say, ‘Kirk, I’ll go get the deeds, you go get the champagne.’”

Eventually, the state would discover what CIRI had pulled off and would enlist the help of the attorney general to investigate the legality of the conveyance. He came down on CIRI’s side, telling the state, “‘If you want this stuff back, you have to ask for it,’” says Brown. “So I was called to Juneau by the commissioner of Natural Resources, and he asked for them back. And we just said, ‘You know, we can’t do that. We followed all the rules—your rules. We’re not able to do that; it’s our shareholders’ interests.’”

***


Benefits for All

••••

Though the state initially challenged CIRI’s Kenai gas field land selections, it would ultimately benefit from the company’s tenacity in fighting for proper royalties.

“Once we got those lands, we realized that the royalties that the state was being paid were completely inappropriate,” says Brown. “So CIRI then proceeded to start royalty actions against the producers to get the royalties up. This had been going on under the state’s nose for years, but they just never objected.”


“Those early 7(i) distributions really kept the doors open for a lot of village and regional corporations. So we are not the biggest 7(i) payer, but we were the earliest, and a significant contributor to allowing corporations to actually stay in existence."
— Margie Brown


“We just didn’t have the horses. That’s not to say the state doesn’t have very capable people. That’s an example of where CIRI’s getting involved certainly brought the state some big bucks,” adds Michael Smith.

CIRI would receive settlements from producers Unocal and Marathon—what would become one of the largest enforcement orders ($100 million) ever issued for payment of back due royalties. Ultimately, the value of the natural gas in the Kenai field was more than tripled, with CIRI receiving an approximately 50 percent share of the federal royalty in the Kenai unit. The new, escalated royalty rates included the state’s interest, too, explains Brown: “For the lands they were left with, they benefitted as well, because we lifted the royalty rates up for everybody in the basin.”

CIRI's Land Maps

Popular land areas include the following:

Early land selections would set the stage for a legacy of financial success at CIRI. They would also play a large role in keeping the doors of other regional and village corporations open during ANCSA’s tumultuous inception.

Within its provisions, ANCSA had laid out a revenue-sharing plan. Under section 7(i), 70 percent of revenues received by regional corporations from subsurface estate were to be divided and paid out to other regional and village corporations. At a time when many corporations were struggling financially, this provision allowed many nascent companies to stay open long enough to find their footing.

Michael Smith reflects on the accomplishment of the Cook Inlet Lands Exchange and acknowledges it likely would not have been achieved if the participants were not motivated young professionals who were too inexperienced to know it couldn’t be done.

All of the royalties earned from the Kenai gas fields, says Brown, were 7(i) shareable. “For years, it was CIRI’s distributions—getting these back royalties and getting these oil and gas interests—that really kept the doors open for a lot of corporations.”

Meanwhile, Michael Smith admits, at times, CIRI’s tenacity created some animosity. “CIRI made a run because of negligence on the part of the DNR, and a number of those leases wound up in CIRI’s possession,” he says. “But I’ve taken a fair bit of solace that [the revenues] were distributed under 7(i), and so all of the various corporations benefitted from that. And from 10,000 feet, the state as a whole did well.”

Tom Kelly, Margie Brown and George Kriste, CIRI executive vice president, at the signing of the oil and gas exploration agreement with Chugach Electric Association, January 1980.
Tom Kelly, Margie Brown and George Kriste, CIRI executive vice president, at the signing of the oil and gas exploration agreement with Chugach Electric Association, January 1980.

“We are not the biggest 7(i) distributor, but we were the earliest, and a significant contributor to allowing corporations to actually stay in existence,” says Brown.

Early revenues and royalties also built a platform for CIRI’s investment strategy, providing significant early income that enable the company to diversify its portfolio.

“Growing a company organically is a slow slog, a hard process,” Brown says. “But with oil and gas revenues coming in so early, even though we were sending a lot out by way of 7(i) distributions, the amount we kept was significant, and we could use those revenues, and we did use those for other investments, whether it was into radio and T.V. stations or real estate—they provided the underpinning that allowed us to go out and do business sin other arenas much earlier than others were able to do.”

***

  • 1977
    CIRI builds its first piece of commercial real estate, the CIRI Building, in Anchorage, which serves as CIRI’s headquarters until 2015.

  • 1979
    CIRI receives its first major land conveyance under ANCSA.

  • 1980
    CIRI shareholders collect their first dividend; CIRI receives land conveyances on the Kenai Peninsula that provide oil and gas royalties.

  • 1983
    Legislation allows for CIRI’s out-of-region entitlements in Alaska to be converted to federal property selections outside of the state.


From “mountaintops and glaciers” to prime property

••••

"I think every publication we put out in those early days talked about mountaintops and glaciers,” Brown says. It was a catchy phrase that communicated CIRI’s unwillingness to receive lands that didn’t sufficiently meet the entitlements put in place by ANCSA. Because CIRI fought for its rightful entitlement, the company was able to select valuable lands that would, over time, bring in hundreds of millions of dollars, providing CIRI a strong financial foundation early on.

Much of CIRI’s success today is due to the lands acquired during the Land Exchange. In addition to royalty-generating properties like the Kenai gas fields and the lands surrounding the Swanson River Unit, CIRI was able to acquire several federal surplus properties, thanks to a provision set forth in the Land Exchange.

Even with the entitlements CIRI was allowed, the land rights CIRI eventually received weren’t sufficient to fulfill the promise of ANCSA. To make up for the land CIRI didn’t receive, the Land Exchange granted CIRI the right to acquire federal surplus property in the region. Among the land CIRI acquired through this provision was Fire Island, three miles offshore from Anchorage, where CIRI currently operates its wind energy project. Under that same provision, CIRI also acquired the land where Tikahtnu Commons Retail and Entertainment Center sits now.

Fire Island Wind
Fire Island Wind.


Tikahtnu Commons
Tikahtnu Commons.

Under the Land Exchange, CIRI had also agreed to take more than half of its land entitlement from outside its own region. But, says Brown, “That entitlement just wasn’t advantageous because we were third in line [to have an opportunity to select lands].”

Instead, CIRI worked out an agreement that allowed it to convert its entitlement into a treasury account. “Instead of just acres, it became dollars in an account,” Brown explains. “We perfected that just as the resolution trust was being established because of the savings and loan debacle. So there was all this great federal property that was being sold, and we could go to these auctions and acquire properties throughout the country.”

Thanks to the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s, more than 1,000 savings and loans institutions became insolvent. The federal government was left with surplus property that it needed to sell—and CIRI was ready to buy.


  • 2012
    CIRI completes construction and begins operation of Fire Island Wind.

  • 2013
    12(b) land selections finalized, conveying more than 230,000 acres to six Cook Inlet village corporations.

  • 2013
    CIRI’s cumulative dividend distributions to shareholders surpass $1 billion, more than the total value of the original ANCSA cash settlement to all corporations.

  • 2013
    CIRI completes construction of the first phase of the Fireweed Business Center.



Makahuena Point
Makahuena Point.

“We acquired developed, income-producing properties throughout the country based on this account that really goes back to that out-of-region entitlement,” explains Brown.

With its treasury account, CIRI bought several properties in Virginia, near Washington, D.C., and 300 acres of valuable commercial property in San Antonio, Texas. The company also purchased Makahuena Point on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, which CIRI is now developing. These, and many other properties around the country, would help bolster CIRI’s financial foundation and make it possible for the company to weather tough times, continue to grow and eventually become one of Alaska’s most successful Alaska Native corporations.

Perhaps the greatest evidence of CIRI’s success, though, is the dividends the company has distributed to its shareholders: By 2013, CIRI had paid more than $1 billion in dividends and distributions to its shareholder, a milestone unreached by any other Alaska Native corporation. It’s an achievement due in large part to CIRI’s land—a foundation for future success built by a team of young, forward-thinking people who sought to get a fair deal for their company.

***

  • 1958
    Passage of Alaska Statehood Act.

  • 1968
    Discovery of large oil deposits at Prudhoe Bay; land claims must be settled before production can begin.

  • 1969
    Secretary Udall formalizes a “land freeze” to protect Native interests while Congress considers land claims.

  • 1971
    Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) is passed.

  • 1973
    CIRI Board authorizes lawsuit over the inadequacy of selection withdrawal; CIRI seeks revised land selection withdrawals to more closely match the land traditionally used by shareholders and files CIRI v. Morton in U.S. District Court.

  • 1975
    CIRI, the State of Alaska and the U.S. Department of the Interior execute the CIRI Land Exchange, restructuring CIRI’s ANCSA land entitlement.

  • 1976
    Legislation enacting the CIRI Land Exchange passes Congress.

  • 1977
    CIRI builds its first piece of commercial real estate, the CIRI Building, in Anchorage, which serves as CIRI’s headquarters until 2015.

  • 1979
    CIRI receives its first major land conveyance under ANCSA.

  • 1980
    CIRI shareholders collect their first dividend; CIRI receives land conveyances on the Kenai Peninsula that provide oil and gas royalties.

  • 1983
    Legislation allows for CIRI’s out-of-region entitlements in Alaska to be converted to federal property selections outside of the state.

  • 2012
    CIRI completes construction and begins operation of Fire Island Wind.

  • 2013
    12(b) land selections finalized, conveying more than 230,000 acres to six Cook Inlet village corporations.

  • 2013
    CIRI’s cumulative dividend distributions to shareholders surpass $1 billion, more than the total value of the original ANCSA cash settlement to all corporations.

  • 2013
    CIRI completes construction of the first phase of the Fireweed Business Center.