With his boundless energy and upbeat personality, CIRI shareholder Michael Kashevarof (Aleut) has quickly established himself as a staff favorite at CIRI. In his role as the company’s meeting coordinator and expeditor, Michael is responsible for providing logistical and general office support at the Fireweed Business Center, CIRI’s corporate headquarters in Anchorage. He also assists at the Information and Annual Meetings held each spring, and at the Friendship Potlatches in the fall.
A lifelong Alaskan, Michael grew up in Anchorage and Seldovia, a village southwest of Homer, Alaska. His family commercial fished, and at age 15, while most high-schoolers had summer jobs babysitting or bagging groceries, Michael spent his first summer commercial fishing in Seldovia. “This was the early 1980s, and the fishing was really good back then,” he recalled. “When I turned 16, I was able to buy a car with the money I’d earned. The woman who helped me with my taxes that year told me she knew adults who worked full-time jobs who hadn’t made what I made that summer.”
An original CIRI shareholder, Michael is connected to CIRI through his mother, Georjean Scott, and his maternal grandmother, Katherine Kashevarof. Originally from Unalaska, the family relocated to Seldovia when the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands were evacuated during World War II. His father is of Irish and Scandinavian descent. Though he has light hair and eyes, “growing up, I identified as an Alaska Native person,” Michael said. “I didn’t meet my biological father until I was an adult, so my mother’s Alaska Native side of the family was the one I was close to.”
After graduating from high school in Anchorage, Michael commercially fished for two seasons with his uncle in Chignik, Alaska, and later in Kodiak, Alaska. “The summer I spent fishing in Kodiak, it was just before the Valdez oil spill and it was a really good year. I’d always been intrigued by Spain and Spanish culture, so after the fishing season was over, I rented a flat and spent three months in Spain. I traveled around and taught myself Spanish.
“Here I was, a lifelong Alaskan, and I was living in Spain,” Michael recalled “It forced me to really take a step back – like, what is life like for people here? Years later I met my wife Lily, a Colombian, here in Anchorage because I knew the Spanish language.”
Michael’s employment history with CIRI dates to the late 1990s, when he worked in the company’s Accounts Payable department. He later worked a series of jobs in both Alaska and Washington State before landing at CIRI-affiliated nonprofit Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC) in 2008, where he started out in a temp job and soon moved into position with the organization’s recovery services program.
“Working with people struggling with addiction is a career that chose me,” Michael said. “I started out as a support person driving residents to appointments and I worked my way up to a supervisor monitor.
“My first day on the job, I was scared to death,” he admitted. “Walking into the Ernie Turner Center (CITC’s residential inpatient unit), I didn’t know what to expect. I almost quit three times in the first week. But I grew to love it. I laughed every day. It was amazing being around participants who found the humor in recovery.”
Michael has been in his current position at CIRI since October 2017. In his spare time he enjoys outdoor pursuits, including fishing and visiting family in Seldovia. He recently married in his wife’s home country of Colombia. “Lily and I met here (in Anchorage) and carried on a long-distance relationship for years. We’re in the process of doing the paperwork so she can relocate to the U.S. Colombia’s reputation as a dangerous country (due to drug trafficking and production) is left over from the ‘80s; it’s improved a lot. Colombian people are warm and respectful, and the food is great. Lily has a great job working for the Colombian Ministry of Education as an accountant and internal auditor. Of the two of us, she’s definitely the one with the brains!” he jokes.
Michel is proud of his “strong connection to CIRI” and said he’s “happy and privileged to be back. The staff is great. I expect to spend the rest of my life in Alaska, but I do fantasize about being a snowbird. The summers are hard to beat, but ideally I’d like to spend a few months Outside each winter.” He pauses, then chuckles. “We’ll see if CIRI will let me do that!”