It wasn’t long ago that June Layman’s longtime dream was slipping through her fingers. The CIRI shareholder was a divorced mother of two boys, one with a disability, struggling to make ends meet in a bad economy in Southern California. Her plans to become a nurse no longer seemed realistic.
And then CIRI helped change everything.
At the urging of her brother, Layman moved back to Anchorage, where she’d spent her early childhood years. An array of CIRI’s nonprofit services, scholarships and grants, primarily through Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC) and The CIRI Foundation, helped her start over, offering assistance with housing, employment and educational pursuits. She’s now raising her sons, Luke, 9, and Zachery, 7, and working as a certified nurse assistant while pursuing a nursing degree at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
“It’s just sort of miracle how everything has turned out,” she said. “My boys know mommy’s going to become a nurse. They are very inspired seeing me doing my homework.”
Since its founding after passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), CIRI has given millions of dollars to create and support nonprofit organizations to help its shareholders, their descendants, and other Alaska Native and American Indian people live healthy and successful lives.
From the beginning, CIRI understood the needs of its shareholders went beyond generating dividends, said Carol Gore, president and CEO of Cook Inlet Housing Authority, one of seven CIRI-founded and affiliated nonprofits.
“CIRI fostered leaders and leadership to build a system of collaboration that today delivers an amazing array of economic, education, health, housing and social benefits to its shareholders,” she said. “As a result, our region is a leader, working together to identify resources and programs that meet the diverse needs of our shareholders and other Alaska Native people.”
Just as ANCSA provided a foundation for Alaska Native people to seek economic self-sufficiency, CITC provides a strong foundation for Native people seeking to empower themselves today, said Gloria O’Neill, CITC president and CEO.
“Whether it’s through education, job-skills training, achieving sobriety and wellness, or promoting healthy, stable families, our community’s nonprofit organizations provide essential tools needed for Alaska Native people to realize their full potential,” she said.
Now 40, Layman had lost touch with her cultural identity after her family moved to California when she was 11. She credits the entire CIRI community for giving it back.
“They just made me feel at home in reconnecting with my people,” she said. “My mother is gone, but I almost feel her presence here with me. I think she would be really proud of me knowing I’m pursuing a nursing degree and that I’m back home.
“Had it not been for these programs, I would have continued this struggle of working a fulltime job trying to support my children at a poverty level. I don’t think I would ever have been able to get out.
“I’m forever thankful for CIRI. Without CIRI, I don’t think I would have the future I’m working for today.”
CIRI is founder of the Alaska Native Heritage Center, the Alaska Native Justice Center and Koahnic Broadcast Corp. CIRI-affiliated nonprofits include Cook Inlet Housing Authority, Cook Inlet Tribal Council, The CIRI Foundation and Southcentral Foundation. Find more information about these programs here