CIRI selected B. Agnes Brown as the 2012 Shareholder of the Year. CIRI President and Chief Executive Officer Margie Brown presented Brown with an award plaque and an Athabascan chief ‘s necklace at the CIRI and The CIRI Foundation’s friendship potlatch on Oct. 14 in Anchorage. Brown’s service to the Alaska Native community and rural Alaska stretches back more than 40 years.
“Agnes’ impact upon the statewide Alaska Native community cannot be overstated,” said Margie Brown. “She has dedicated her life to improving the lives and circumstances of Alaska Native people, and for that she deserves recognition.”
Agnes was an activist for the passage of ANCSA and a founding AFN board member. She served as president and chair of Tyonek Native Corp. from its inception in 1973 until 1986.
Agnes holds the distinction of being the longest serving woman on CIRI’s Board, having served from 1974 to 2011. At the first CIRI board meeting, she was appointed assistant secretary, and to both the Executive Committee and Land Negotiating Committee. She played a critical role as a member of the Land Negotiating Committee, working diligently to ensure that CIRI obtained resource-rich lands in the Southcentral region that retained similar characteristics to lands traditionally used. These efforts eventually led to the Cook Inlet Land Exchange, a deal pivotal to CIRI’s success, and because of ANCSA’s 7(i) provision, a stabilizing factor for other Alaska Native corporations that were struggling at the time.
Today, Brown serves as president of Kaloa and Co., a family-owned fishing business. She is a trustee of the CIRI Elders’ Settlement Trust, a director of Cook Inlet Tribal Council and serves on the Southcentral Foundation Traditional Healing Advisory Council.
Elder Shareholder of the Year
The 2012 CIRI Elder of the Year is Ernie ‘Big Bear’ Berestoff of Spokane, Wash. Berestoff was born hard of hearing and overcame life obstacles to succeed. His accomplishments continue to benefit his community.
Berestoff was born Dec. 21, 1931, to Olga Berestoff during the Great Depression. Hardship forced his mother to place him in the Jesse Lee Home, a boarding school and orphanage, where he lived until he was four years old, when a Seattle family with a deaf son took him into their home. He remained with that family and attended regular day school until April 1947, when he enrolled in the Washington School for the Deaf.
There, Berestoff became known for his athletic talents in basketball and boxing, and was honored as an All Star and All American Athlete. He fell in love with the school and with a green-eyed classmate, Adele Hurst, whom he married on Dec. 20, 1952. He and Adele had three children.
Berestoff went on to make a career as a linotype printing machine operator. He helped establish the Hearing Loss Center in Spokane, Wash., where he served on the board of directors. In 2011, Ernie was inducted into the Washington School for the Deaf Alumni Association Hall of Fame for his athletic accomplishments and community activities. One of Ernie’s favorite pastimes is fishing with his sons, grandchildren and friends.