My name is Tom Huhndorf. I am Yup’ik and an original CIRI enrollee. It has been my honor to serve on the CIRI Board of Directors since 2004.
I was born in Anchorage and raised in Nikiski, Alaska. I grew up in a commercial-fishing family that proudly relied on subsistence to bring in both food and income. I was a young teen when the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was signed into law in 1971, settling Alaska Native peoples’ aboriginal land claims and leading to the creation of 12 land-based Alaska Native regional corporations and more than 200 village corporations. I am a shareholder, tribal member and former chair of Salamatof Native Association (SNA). It was during my time on the SNA board that I became interested in CIRI.
As we celebrate ANCSA’s 50th anniversary this year and reflect upon our journey so far, I am reminded of what we can accomplish when we work together. The positive impact Alaska Native corporations (ANCs) have had on Alaska Native people and all Alaskans is immeasurable.
With the allocation of 44 million acres of land, ANCSA ensured that Alaska Native people retain valuable and significant properties throughout Alaska. These lands are sacred to us all, and we have a great responsibility to ensure they remain viable for future generations. ANCSA ensures that Alaska Native people get to decide— collectively, through their respective ANCs—how best to manage, protect and develop our lands.
ANCs have sustainably enhanced the quality of life of tens of thousands of Alaska Native people; income levels, graduation rates, employment, and health and wellness for Alaska Native people have continually improved over the last 50 years. The passage of ANCSA also had effects that reached far beyond Alaska Native people: by creating Alaska Native-owned, for-profit corporations, ANCSA brought additional economic diversity to the state that has benefited all Alaskans, both directly and indirectly.
ANCSA is the success story it is today because Alaska Native people collectively worked for what was rightfully ours. It is a remarkable agreement that continues to empower Alaska Native people.
I hope you will join me in celebrating the successes of the past 50 years of ANCSA while looking to the future, engaging and collectively working toward a future where Alaska Native people thrive.