Karen Voy and her husband, Duane. Photo courtesy of Karen Voy.

“Be proud of who you are and where you come from, but be especially proud of how you treat others.” It’s an adage original CIRI shareholder Karen Voy (Athabascan) lives by, and it’s one she’s passed down to her three children.

Adopted as an infant by a Caucasian family, Karen spent her childhood in Iowa. “My family was blond-haired and blue-eyed, but I was always very aware I was a Native person,” Karen said. “I didn’t meet another Native until I was 23 years old, but my family was very open about my heritage. It’s something I’ve always been proud of.”

Karen received a degree in education from Minnesota-based Northwestern College (now University of Northwestern), but rather than putting her skills to use in a traditional classroom setting, she chose instead to homeschool her three children. “It made economic sense for me to homeschool – my husband traveled for work, so we got to take our kids with us. I absolutely loved it. We did school year-round and always had a membership to the local museum, zoo or historical society. I learned so much.”

These days, Karen lives on an original homestead in Washington County, Minn., where she enjoys biking, gardening, running, skiing, swimming and spending time with her three children, now 26, 24 and 19 years old.

Always open to education and new experiences, after her children were grown, Karen applied to be a member of CIRI’s Shareholder Participation Committee (SPC).

With the goal of increasing two-way communication between CIRI and its shareholders, identifying issues of immediate and long-term importance to shareholders and descendants, and educating shareholders and descendants on the corporation’s mission, business operations, corporate policies and other matters, the SPCs provide a vital link between CIRI and its shareholders.

The SPCs are comprised of three subcommittees – the Anchorage Committee; the Alaska Committee, made up of shareholders who live in Alaska outside Anchorage; and the Lower 48 and Hawaii Committee. Since 2016, Karen has served on the Lower 48 and Hawaii Committee.

“Getting picked (to serve on the SPCs) was a pleasant surprise,” Karen recalled. “Having grown up outside Alaska, I really didn’t know much about CIRI. I would get things in the mail and skim them, but I never really dug very deep. I thought it would be a good opportunity to become a more engaged shareholder, but I didn’t realize I’d learn as much as I have.

“Seeing what CIRI does has been a really good education for me,” Karen continued. “Not only what it does business-wise, but what the company does for the community through its family of nonprofits. I’ve been very impressed with that aspect of CIRI – the fact they’re looking out for others. The Board, too, is incredibly open with us. When asked a question, even if it’s uncomfortable, they don’t shy away from answering it.”

Karen said she would “absolutely recommend” that interested shareholders apply to become a member of the SPCs. “Since I’m part of the Lower 48 Committee, I’m required to travel twice a year for the meetings. But Charlene (Juliussen, an original CIRI shareholder and member of CIRI’s Shareholder Relations department) takes such good care of us; she makes it so easy. Once you’re a member, you’re hooked – you want to come back every year because you’re treated so well.”

This year, Karen participated in the CIRI Board Nominating Committee selection process that helps to identify and vet candidates for the CIRI Board of Directors. Each year, the Nominating Committee, which is comprised of CIRI Directors whose terms are continuing, solicits applications from shareholders who are interested in applying for the CIRI Board-recommended slate of candidates, after which committee members review the applications, interview candidates and recommended applicants to the CIRI Board of Directors for consideration. The three SPC chairs serve as non-voting, advisory members of the Nominating Committee.

“We were looking for candidates with business backgrounds – those who have worked in a business environment and have leadership experience under their belts,” Karen explained. “Of the three interviews I heard, the candidates came from very diverse business backgrounds – from large corporate environments to small business owners. And they all got the same shake. The committee really just wanted to hear what they had to offer.”

Having grown up removed from Alaska Native culture and, now, having found a connection as an adult, “I would encourage shareholders to be proud of being Native, but to be especially proud of being good human beings,” Karen emphasized. “When I was homeschooling my kids, I had them read ‘The Lantern Bearers’ by Rosemary Sutcliff. My son asked me, ‘Mom, why are you making me read this? It’s so sad.’ And I said to him, ‘I’ll tell you why – these people lived in England a long time ago. Their country was taken over by the Romans, and then the Anglo- Saxons, and they lost a lot. When you grow up, you need to realize you’re not the only one who’s been a victim.’ Just like the protagonist in the story, he picked himself up and grew his own family. The next generation, they can change things… And CIRI is part of that – teaching us to honor our history and heritage while helping those around us.”