CIRI explores the question of open enrollment

By CIRI Board Chair Doug Fifer

CIRI Board Chair Douglas Fifer

One of the key mandates of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was the formation of 12 land-based, for-profit Alaska Native regional corporations that would represent 12 geographic regions of the state. ANCSA would provide seed capital and land to each corporation, and Alaska Native people born by the enactment date (Dec. 18, 1971) would enroll in regional and/or village corporations, receiving 100 shares of stock.

I was born in 1971 and am therefore one of the youngest original enrollees of CIRI. The only way to become a Shareholder today is to receive stock through gifting or inheritance.

Over the years, Shareholders of six of the 12 regional corporations—Ahtna Incorporated, Arctic Slope Regional Corp., Calista Corp., Doyon, Limited, NANA Regional Corp. and Sealaska Corp.—have voted to open enrollment and issue stock to Descendants of original Shareholders.

The benefits of open enrollment are clear: Descendants born after Dec. 18, 1971, have access to ownership of the corporation and, in some ways, this strengthens their connection with their cultural heritage. There are also other benefits to becoming a Shareholder, such as receiving distributions and voting in board elections. On the other hand, opening enrollment can significantly impact current Shareholders. For example, increasing the outstanding shares of a company dilutes the ownership of current Shareholders and directly affects distribution amounts.

In 2021, CIRI conducted an in-depth survey to assess the thoughts and opinions of Shareholders and Descendants related to certain aspects of our corporation, including whether to open our rolls. Support for open enrollment has increased slightly since CIRI’s 2014 survey, with half of Shareholder survey participants—and more than three-quarters of Descendants—now indicating support for open enrollment.

However, Shareholders who indicated support for opening enrollment are split on how much they are willing to reduce their distributions to accomplish this. If a corporation opens enrollment, the same amount of profits are shared among a larger number of people, thus reducing the amount Shareholders receive from their distributions. Other concerns include increased administrative costs for CIRI, which would impact annual net income, and more votes being cast, which would diminish the weight of an individual’s voting power.

In focus groups, Elders questioned and discussed open enrollment. They wanted CIRI to look closely at open enrollment from all angles and understand the potential benefits and drawbacks.

At this time, based on results from the survey and focus groups, and after in-depth review and analysis, the CIRI Board of Directors has elected not to pursue open enrollment. As always, Shareholders may transfer stock through gifting or inheritance, which allows the number of outstanding shares of the corporation to remain constant. CIRI was created to transcend generations, and gifting shares to the next generation ensures the future success of our corporation. Many CIRI benefits—including access to education, hiring preference, Shareholder and Descendant programs, and discounts— are available to CIRI Descendants, regardless of Shareholder status.

The conversation about open enrollment is an ongoing dialogue that the CIRI Board of Directors intends to continue with Shareholders and Descendants in the coming years. We realize that attitudes and circumstances change over time, and your corporation is committed to providing and supporting opportunities for all CIRI stakeholders. Opening enrollment is a decision that will ultimately be decided by CIRI’s voting Shareholders. Your Board and executive team are aware of both the pros and cons of such a decision.

My fellow Directors and I are always open to feedback, questions and suggestions. Please feel free to reach out to us directly at [email protected].