A message from outgoing CIRI Board Director
I was born on the Yukon River at Nulato and lived most of my life in Anchorage. It was a fellow CIRI Shareholder, Donald Watson, who encouraged me to get involved with CIRI (then Cook Inlet Native Association).
Don and I worked together in the freezer of a wholesale grocer in Anchorage. He joked, “You know why they put you in the freezer, don’t you? It’s because you’re an Eskimo.” Don was an Indian from the Yukon. “But don’t be disheartened,” he said. “This is a good place to be—the bosses don’t come in here because it’s too cold, and we can talk about the things we want talk about.” He wanted to talk to me about CIRI. This was in 1968, and I’ve been involved with the company ever since. I was president and CEO from 1972 to 1998 and served on the Board from 2002 to 2023. I feel very honored to have served all these years.
I want to share another story, one I remember very clearly: In 1975, a fellow regional corporation president came up to me and said, “I feel sorry for you, Roy.” I asked him why, and he said, “CIRI will be the first regional corporation to fail, mark my words, because you don’t have a homogenous Alaska Native culture.” As it turns out, what he described as our weakness ended up being our strength.
In those early years, our Shareholders came from a multitude of geographies and walks of life, including those who had been sent away from home by the federal government for “re-acculturation” in faraway boarding schools. In those schools, loneliness and cultural deprivation instilled a resolve to survive and a commitment to find a better way for their own children. When the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) passed in 1971, those very people provided the knowledge that would make the company work.
ANCSA gave CIRI title to 1.25 million acres of surface estate and 2.25 million acres of subsurface estate within the Southcentral Alaska region. Situated in the most populated part of the state, CIRI was faced with the reality that much of the land in the region was already in private hands, set aside for the state, owned by the military, or off limits for parks and wildlife, leaving “glaciers and mountaintops” for land-entitlement selections.
CIRI leaders refused to accept what would have been deficient selections and began a battle to obtain resource-rich lands in our region. Signed into law in 1976, the Cook Inlet Land Exchange—a three-way land exchange between CIRI, the State of Alaska and the federal government—helped lay the foundation for CIRI’s future successes, including a solid financial grounding.
I’m very proud of the way we came together—and continue to come together— for the benefit of our people. Thank you, again, for the privilege and honor of serving you all these years. Though I will no longer serve on the Board, I remain a proud member of our CIRI family.