By: Margie Brown, CIRI president and CEO

By: Margie Brown, CIRI president and CEO

On January 3, 2009, Alaskans will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alaska’s statehood. We should take a moment as we commemorate this important milestone to reflect upon the extraordinary change our state and its residents have experienced during the past half century; from earthquakes, volcanoes and extreme weather to ANCSA, oil booms, oil spills, economic growth and the buzz of living in the spotlight of a national political campaign. Congratulations, Alaska.

Regardless of whether we like it or not, change is one of the few sure things in our young state, and it will inexorably continue into the future.

Last month’s elections will, no doubt, foster many social, political and economic changes in Alaska and our country. I extend my congratulations to Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich for his election to the U.S. Senate, and to Congressman Don Young for his re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives. Like other Alaskans, I look forward to working with our entire delegation, including Senator-elect Begich, on issues that are important to CIRI and to our state. Now that the election is past, it is prudent for Alaskans to band together behind our delegation, to help our state continue to grow and thrive into the future.

I would be amiss if I did not also express my gratitude to Sen. Ted Stevens for his years of service to Alaska as he prepares to leave office. Sen. Stevens played a critical role in creating and implementing the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and other legislation that will benefit Alaska Natives for generations to come. His hard work enabled our state and the influence of Alaska Natives and Alaska Native corporations to grow tremendously during the 40 years since he first took office on Dec. 24, 1968.

On the national front, I am watching President-elect Obama with great interest as he prepares to take office next month. I am optimistic that he is up to the challenges of the presidency. His preparations and cabinet nominations appear to be meticulous and carefully selected to enable his administration to swiftly transition into office and to take firm control of the reins of government.

Our political leaders have their work cut out for them dealing with events of the past few months. Stock values plummeted and we are in a national recession. World energy prices climbed to record highs, then plunged, and nobody knows where they are going next. Families are moving to new communities. Children are living completely different lifestyles than their parents. And more Alaskans and Americans face real challenges to keeping their jobs and their homes than ever since Alaska became a state. It is a confusing time; but it is a time that is full of opportunities that can benefit us all if we and our leaders are able to adapt to changing circumstances.

American democracy has shown that our country’s businesses and social institutions stay strong by continuously reinventing themselves to adapt to new demands that are caused by such things as population growth, technological innovation and the growing expectations that people gain from broader media exposure and education. Unfortunately, these changes that are good for our nation can be hard on individuals who may be forced to adapt by giving up comfortable or familiar habits and lifestyles to learn new skills or to move to find new jobs at locations where work can be done more efficiently.

It would be easy to focus on the hardships that are resulting from our current social, political and economic turmoil, but I prefer to look for the opportunities that they create, because our American system rewards individuals who overcome challenges and successfully adapt to change.

The story of Alaska’s state history is about overcoming challenges. That is CIRI’s history, too. Both the state and CIRI are peopled with individuals who demonstrate both resilience and entrepreneurial spirit. These qualities will be needed as we meet the challenges and opportunities ahead of us. I am confident that both CIRI and our state will continue to adapt, grow and thrive in 2009 and beyond.