Board Corner

A Message from CIRI Board Director Hallie Bissett

My name is Hallie Bissett. I am Dena’ina Athabascan and was gifted CIRI shares from my mother, original enrollee Debra Bissett. I am the granddaughter of original CIRI enrollee Virginia Nicoli Cullers and the great-granddaughter of Talkeetna Nicoli, the last traditional chief of Talkeetna, Alaska. It has been my honor to serve on the CIRI Board of Directors since 2010.

I grew up with CIRI and with a close connection to my Alaska Native heritage—my grandmother was full-blooded Dena’ina Athabascan and I stayed in close contact with her and my other Alaska Native relatives.

I began working as a groundskeeper for CIRI at the age of 14. Over the next seven years I worked in a variety of roles at CIRI, including historical research and cultural tourism positions. One of the highlights of my time at CIRI was working with historian A.J. McClanahan on her book “A Reference in Time,” a day-by-day record of Alaska Native history.

When I worked in cultural tourism, I spent a lot of time with the Elders in Chickaloon and Montana Creek, where my family was from, and even my own family, talking about traditional lifestyles—the regalia they wore, the songs they sang. I still remember the first time I heard an Athabascan song and the beat of a Native drum, just knowing I was connected to something bigger.

Today, I serve as executive director for the Alaska Native Village Corporation Association where I help develop small village corporations into sustainable ongoing concerns.

Around the time I graduated high school, my mother gifted CIRI shares to each of her three children because she wanted us to be involved in our corporation. I believe parents gifting shares to the next generation and encouraging them to participate in the corporation makes us stronger. Beyond gifting shares, CIRI makes numerous opportunities—including youth opportunities—available to CIRI descendants, regardless of shareholder status. It is up to each of us to encourage this kind of involvement in CIRI.

As its only millennial member, I bring a unique perspective to the CIRI Board. By involving CIRI youth in our corporation, we work to build the next generation of leaders who will carry CIRI forward.