A message from the president: Wind project draws from global resources, provides local benefits

By: Margie Brown, CIRI president and chief executive officer

CIRI celebrated its 40-year anniversary on June 8.

I have worked at CIRI for 35 of those years and I feel a combination of awe and pride when I look back at everything our Company has accomplished since it incorporated.

Forty-one years ago, Congress passed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in exchange for $963 million dollars and title to approximately 44 million acres of land. The Act distributed the money and land between 12 Alaska Native regional corporations and more than 200 village corporations. Alaska Native people born on or before Dec. 18, 1971 were eligible to enroll as shareholders of these corporations based upon their cultural and geographic heritage. 

It was an exciting but challenging time. ANCSA provided the ingredients needed to build enduring corporations that could benefit generations of Alaska Native people. But there were no proven recipes that guaranteed success. It took a tremendous amount of creative thinking and work by many different people to create the Alaska Native corporations that exist today. 

Many observers at the time predicted that CIRI would be the first regional corporation to fail because it was relatively small and located around the hub of the state where most of the economically attractive land was already occupied and unavailable for selection. And because people from everywhere in the state lived in Anchorage, CIRI did not have the cultural unity in its shareholder base that other Alaska Native corporations enjoyed. Instead, CIRI was a cultural melting pot owned by 6,278 original shareholders who had cultural ties to every Alaska Native and Indian culture group in the state, including people of Athabascan, Southeast Indian, Inupiat, Yupik, Alutiiq/Sugpiaq and Aleut/Unangax descent.

CIRI’s early leaders quickly determined that our Company’s original land entitlements were inadequate and they negotiated a new agreement, the Cook Inlet Land Exchange, with state and federal officials. This agreement is among the largest land transactions in U.S. history. It benefited CIRI both by improving our land selections and by giving our Company valuable negotiation experience and business connections.

My first job at CIRI was in 1976 in the land department, where I helped implement the Cook Inlet Land Exchange. My role at CIRI grew and evolved along with the Company. After assisting with CIRI’s original land selections, I went on to manage CIRI’s natural resource operations. CIRI earned its first significant income from resource leasing and oil and gas production. 

CIRI’s Board of Directors and executive team leveraged our Company’s initial successes by investing in an increasingly diverse portfolio of business interests that included oilfield service companies, minority-owned broadcast interests, telecommunications licenses and real estate, tourism and hospitality business interests. Our Board also created CIRI’s family of nonprofit organizations that provide health care, housing, employment, education and other social and cultural enrichment services for Alaska Native people and others.

By almost any standards, our Company has been extremely successful in its first 40 years. In 2003, CIRI established the CIRI Elders’ Settlement Trust with $16 million to fund quarterly payments to qualified Elders. CIRI endowed The CIRI Foundation, established by the Company in 1982, in an amount that has allowed the foundation to be self-sustaining and successful in its own right in providing education and cultural support for many years.  In 2011, CIRI’s cumulative dividend distribution to shareholders since it was founded surpassed $963 million, the total value of the original ANCSA cash settlement paid to all Alaska Native corporations. We anticipate that total dividends paid will increase to more than $1 billion in 2013.

Like all my previous positions with the Company, I enjoy my job immensely. With that in mind, I feel it is a good time to make room for the next generation of professionals to take control of our Company. Last September, I began to work with the CIRI Board to develop a succession plan for the President and CEO position. Throughout the spring the Board quietly worked on the succession planning efforts. They were diligent in those efforts, providing a fair and respectful process for all the candidates. I am pleased to report that the CIRI Board of Directors selected CIRI shareholder and current Chief Operating Officer Sophie Minich to succeed me on Jan. 3, 2013 as our Company’s next President and Chief Executive Officer.

Sophie is extremely well-qualified and prepared for her new role. She has the breadth of experience to make sound judgments that the position requires. She has served our Company for more than 19 years filling a variety of roles including director of accounting, vice president of administration, chief financial officer, senior vice president of business development and now chief operations officer. 

I am confident that Sophie’s broad knowledge and experience, coupled with the Board’s guidance and the support of the great team at CIRI, will enable her to help CIRI adapt to changing economic conditions in order to continue to grow and benefit generations of shareholders.