By CIRI summer intern Charles “Chas” Anderson
“Everything I’ve learned from my Alaska Native and African- American heritage prepared me for what it would take to properly protect and develop CIRI’s natural resources.”
For CIRI shareholder Tanisha Gleason (Haida), working as a revenue analyst in CIRI’s Land and Resources department is more than a job – it’s a passion, fueled by her intrinsic drive, the values passed down from her mother and father, and a childhood spent “hanging out in the woods, fishing, raising animals and working in our garden.”
Tanisha is connected to CIRI through her late grandmother, Joy Hamilton Nelson Cutshall, and her mother, Valerie G. Corey. Both are original CIRI shareholders. Her father was born in Mississippi and grew up in Iowa.
Tanisha was raised on five acres in Chugiak, Alaska, a community 20 miles outside of Anchorage. “It was a wonderful upbringing,” she recalled. “My father was an Army drill sergeant, so he was very strict, but he instilled in me a good work ethic. My mother was very compassionate. Everything you could want from a childhood, I had it – a roof over my head, clothes on my back, food on the table and two loving parents.
“My upbringing was very structured – there was discipline, there were rules – but at the same time, they (my parents) allowed me to do anything I set my mind to,” Tanisha continued. “For example, I was held back in first grade. In fifth grade, I decided I wanted my grade back. I went to my parents and told them I could do sixth grade, and so I did fifth and sixth grade the same year and got straight As.”
Tanisha’s parents encouraged her not only in academic pursuits, but extracurricular activities as well. These included playing the viola, participating in cross-country running and track and field, serving on Anchorage Youth Court, and working to reduce adolescents’ exposure to HIV and AIDS. “The kind of upbringing I had was, if I set my mind to it, my parents would support me,” she said.
After graduating in 1997 from Chugiak High School, Tanisha spent a year in New York studying phlebotomy. She quickly decided the medical field was not for her and returned to Alaska seeking a summer job. Tanisha landed a spot on one of Peak Oilfield Services’ stick-picker crews, which entailed spending 12-hour days up in Prudhoe Bay. She then moved on to Southcentral Foundation (SCF), a CIRI-affiliated nonprofit. “I worked on the SCF campus for 13 years and did pretty much every job you can imagine,” she said, including stints in behavioral health, inpatient/outpatient pediatrics, food service and the office of general counsel.
In 2014, CIRI held its second annual Job and Resource Fair. Tanisha’s husband, Jesse, encouraged her to attend. “What if there’s an opportunity for you there?” she recalled him saying. At the job fair, Tanisha spoke with Debra Ahern, senior director, CIRI Human Resources, who told her about an administrative position opening up in the Land and Resources department. Tanisha jumped at the opportunity. “SCF is a nonprofit, so there was always this level of awe when it came to CIRI because CIRI is the parent company,” she said. “It was such a privilege to be considered for the position, let alone hired. It’s kind of like playing for the minors and getting called up to the majors.”
The position in the Land and Resources department proved a perfect fit for Tanisha, as its goal is to responsibly develop and protect company-owned lands as a heritage asset for future generations. “My father, being African-American, owning land was a huge thing,” she said. “And my mother, being an Alaska Native woman who actually gets to own and manage her own land, it’s a privilege. So be part of a team that’s protecting that privilege, it’s something I hold dear.”
Tanisha started as the Land and Resources administrative assistant, was promoted to a resource technician position and now serves as the department’s revenue analyst. Her primary focus is oil and gas development, which includes site visits. “The reason site visits are so important is that you cannot expect what you do not inspect,” Tanisha said. “I expect lessees to do a good job, but I want to see it.”
In addition to her full-time job at CIRI, Tanisha waits tables and is working toward a business management degree at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She will have been married to her husband for 14 years in November. “He’s a vet tech, so we’re complete opposites,” she laughs. “He used to work a security job and was a hockey player, so he can hang with the toughest of the tough, but then you see him walking around holding a kitten. One of the highlights of my life was meeting him.”
As for the future, “I want to be part of the team making long-term decisions for CIRI,” Tanisha said. “I cannot emphasize enough the importance of maintaining and protecting our assets. I want the land to be here for generations. My niece will be 14 this year; I want it to be around for her kids, and for their kids. I strongly believe it’s important for CIRI and all Alaska Native corporations to protect what they have. Alaska Native people can effectively own and manage lands; no one can do it better than the people who know it best. Protect it, cherish it and never take it for granted.”