ANCSA Village and Urban Corporations on the Rise

by Sep 19, 2022Alaska Native, Magazine

Bill Roth | McClatchy-Tribune | Alamy

Among hundreds of village and urban corporations, no two have chosen the exact same path to meet that mandate. Here are highlights and updates for a handful.

In addition to twelve regional corporations, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) allocated lands and funds to more than 200 village corporations. As with their regional counterparts, the village corporations are mandated to make a profit and use it to benefit their shareholders and villages. It’s no surprise that, among hundreds of corporations, no two have chosen the exact same path to meet that mandate. Below are highlights and updates for a handful of the village and urban corporations.

Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation

Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation (UIC) states, “During the development of ANCSA, our leaders were creative and resourceful in adapting to the changing world around them, just like our ancestors had been. When UIC was established, Barrow was still very much a subsistence-oriented community. We knew little about business, let alone running an ANCSA-mandated, multi-million-dollar corporation. Whalers became corporate executives overnight, and we rose to the challenge.”

Fifty years later, UIC has become one of the largest village corporations with 4,000 employees, fifty-four subsidiaries, and more than 2,900 shareholders. This year it welcomed a new trail-blazing leader: President and CEO Pearl K. Brower joined the corporation in April, after then-president and CEO Delbert Rexford announced his retirement. At the time of the hiring announcement, Brower said, “After serving as a member of the board of directors this last year, I know we have an amazing team across our entire company, and I look forward to building on the foundation our board and outgoing president Delbert Rexford has laid for us. A bright future for our families, and our corporation, are important to me as we envision a healthy, strong community for generations to come.”

Pearl-Brower

Pearl K. Brower | President and CEO

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A month later in May, UIC announced a different kind of acquisition, a majority interest in HC Contractors, a Fairbanks-based construction company specializing in infrastructure and heavy civil construction services. At the time of the acquisition, UIC COO Jeevan Pokharel said, “We look forward to partnering with HC’s team and continuing to deliver vital, world-class infrastructure engineering and construction services in Alaska. This definitely places UIC as a dominant force in the heavy civil industry.” The acquisition adds to UIC’s construction industry expertise, which has been built through subsidiaries such UIC Construction and Qayaq Construction, among others.

Goldbelt, Inc.

GoldBelt tram

Goldbelt owns and operates the Goldbelt Tram, which rises to 1,800 feet from the cruise ship dock in downtown Juneau and is the only aerial tramway in Southeast. It’s part of the urban corporation’s Alaska group of subsidiaries.

BackyardProduction | iStock

Goldbelt was formed originally with 2,722 shareholders and today represents more than 3,900 Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian shareholders and their descendants in Southeast. The company states, “Goldbelt is committed to making a significant and positive difference in the lives of our shareholders,” and year after year it is delivering on that promise.

According to Goldbelt CEO McHugh Pierre, “2021 was the most successful in Goldbelt history,” which was the third consecutive record-setting year for the corporation. In addition to seeing an increase in its number of employees in and out of Alaska, Goldbelt reports approximately $500 million in gross revenue for 2021—approximately 80 percent growth in gross revenue from 2020 and more than double the $240 million that Goldbelt earned in 2019.

Pierre attributes this success to the board of directors’ 2016 strategy to diversify. “Goldbelt now has thirty subsidiary companies in every state, every US territory, and in five foreign countries,” he reports.

Goldbelt, the urban corporation for Juneau, organizes its many subsidiaries into two groups: federal government contracting and the Alaska group. The Alaska group comprises the Goldbelt Tram, Goldbelt Transportation, Goldbelt Security, and Goldbelt Seadrome Marina.

In January, Goldbelt Transportation signed a contract with the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities to run two confirmed routes on the winter ferry schedule: the first was a roundtrip route between Juneau, Hoonah, and Gustavus and the second, also roundtrip, traveled between Juneau, Tenakee, and Angoon. Goldbelt Transportation secured an additional contract for three more routes in March, and one special-event contract in August to transport people to Kake for the Kake Dog Salmon Festival. While the contracts bring money into the coffers, they also provide more transportation options for the corporation’s shareholders. “I’m appreciative of the opportunity to serve our villages and the Southeast community,” says Goldbelt Transportation Captain Clint Songer.

In January, Goldbelt Security was awarded a $51.6 million contract from the Department of Defense to purchase COVID-19 antigen over-the-counter test kits, which was part of the Biden Administration’s efforts to deliver 500 million at-home tests to Americans at no cost. According to Goldbelt, “The [Department of Defense] solicited the support of Goldbelt Security directly for the test kit initiative after working with Goldbelt Security previously to provide over 1 billion needles and syringes in vaccine support.”

Gana-A’Yoo

Gana-A’Yoo means “friends” or “friends together” in Athabascan, and according to the corporation, “At all the Gana-A’Yoo companies, we take that to heart.” The corporation represents the Yukon River villages of Galena, Koyukuk, Nulato, and Kaltag, and the majority of its (at present) 1,200 shareholders are Koyukon Athabascan.

Revenues to pay dividends are generated through a handful of subsidiaries that provide facilities maintenance and management, food service, janitorial services, waste management and recycling, construction, and project management, as well as other areas of expertise.

Ketchikan view of homes on hillside

Cape Fox Corporation’s communications team won several awards in 2022 for its marketing campaigns promoting Ketchikan, including its website for Sweet Mermaids, a bakery and café on Front Street.

edb3_16 | envantoelements

According to Gana-A’Yoo, “As a historically nomadic people who relied on each other, the concept of sharing is a pivotal one in Athabascan tradition.” That tradition influenced the company’s shareholders to approve the creation of a new class of shares for descendants of original shareholders, the first village corporation to do so in the Doyon region. “The majority of voting shareholders said ‘yes’ to opening enrollment to eligible descendants of original shareholders, born after 1971. These are exciting times,” says CEO Dena Sommer-Pedebone in the corporation’s newsletter, Tl’eeyegge Hut’anne’. Descendants with a one-quarter blood quantum can apply for twenty-five life estate shares. Descendants of any age may apply, but the shares are non-voting until the shareholder is 18 years old. Gana-A’Yoo is issuing new shares for a period of ten years or until 100,000 additional shares are awarded, whichever comes first.

As one Gana-A’Yoo shareholder states in the newsletter, “Our children are our legacy; they need early knowledge of our corporations, lands, et cetera. Involvement is key; what better way is there for them to gain knowledge but to make them a part of the organization.”

Choggiung Limited

ANCSA entitled Choggiung to 161,280 acres of land in western Alaska encompassing the greater Dillingham area. In 1981 it merged with Ekuk and Ohgsenakle villages, which brought with them an additional 138,240 acres, and the joint corporation is on the precipice of another kind of expansion.

In February 2022 the Choggiung board of directors unanimously approved a resolution that makes a formal recommendation to shareholders to vote in favor of opening enrollment to descendants of Choggiung shareholders. It’s now up to the shareholders, who are voting on the resolution this month.

If the amendment is approved, twenty-five life estate shares (meaning they cannot be gifted or inherited), or Class B stock, will be issued to each new enrollee, assuming they meet the eligibility criteria. According to Choggiung, research conducted by the UAA Institute of Social and Economic Research indicates that there are approximately 1,800 living lineal descendants that would qualify, which would be a significant addition to the corporation’s current enrollment of approximately 2,200 shareholders.

Choggiung is also expanding its business operations; earlier this year one of its wholly owned subsidiaries, Choggiung Investment Company, acquired N&N Property in Dillingham. N&N Property owns several buildings as well as “land in downtown Dillingham equipped for a grocery and general merchandise retail business,” according to Choggiung. Choggiung Investment Company was a minority owner prior to the March 2022 acquisition, when it purchased the remaining 51 percent of the company from United Companies Inc., a subsidiary of Sea Lion Corporation.

“The new ownership interest gives us the chance to develop long-term operating plans. With this autonomy and flexibility, we have a heightened excitement about the future of the store,” states Choggiung’s Spring 2022 newsletter.

Chenega Corporation

Chenega Corporation represents the village of Chenega, which has certainly seen its share of turmoil. The original village was destroyed in the 1964 Good Friday earthquake, and more than one-third of its residents died. According to the company, the village suffered “the highest percentage of loss of life of any community in the earthquake and tsunami catastrophe.”

In 1971, ANCSA granted the original residents of Chenega title to more than 70,000 acres, which led to the corporation’s establishment in 1974. In 1984, a group of former villagers established a new location for Chenega on Evans Island in Prince William Sound.

Those new roots have grown Chenega into the wealthiest of all ANCSA village corporations, with revenue in 2020 just under $1 billion. As the company has found success, it has continued to develop infrastructure and resources in the rebuilt village.

For example, an expansion of the small boat harbor includes related shoreline improvements and work on an “appropriately sized and positioned” breakwater.

Design for Phase 1, the breakwater, is scheduled to be complete by the end of this year, and Chenega anticipates that construction for this phase will be completed in one season.

One of Chenega’s core principles is to “attract, develop, compensate, reward, and retain a world-class workforce,” which requires a people-first commitment. In 2022, Chenega was recognized again as a Top Ten Military Friendly Company: it ranked 4th overall as a military friendly employer, 1st overall as a military spouse friendly employer, 8th overall as a military friendly company, and 8th overall as a military friendly brand. According to the company, “Our years-long success in being a Top Ten Military Friendly Employer is due in part to our military-friendly policies and quality workplace environment. This positioning helps prepare veterans for a smooth transition into new civilian roles at Chenega; more than 23 percent of our current employees have past military experience.”

Cape Fox Corporation

Marine corps delivering supplies out of plane

In December 2021 the US Marine Corps delivered supplies and personnel to Galena, one of the villages represented by Gana-A’Yoo, which literally means “friends together.” According to the company, “The concept of sharing is a pivotal one in Athabascan tradition.”

Sgt Jackson Ricker | US Marine Corps | DVIDS

Thousands of years ago Tlingit ancestors settled at Cape Fox in the Alexander Archipelago, near the tip of what is now the Alaska Panhandle. Around the turn of the 20th century, they left that site and settled in Saxman on the outskirts of Ketchikan.

According to Cape Fox Corporation, “Our own Alaskan Native history is like a legend,” one that is told today through an award-winning communications team. In January the corporation received two AVA Digital Awards: a gold award for its digital and social media campaign for the Cape Fox Lodge and Baranof Fishing marketing partnership and a platinum award for the design of the website portion of the Faces of Ketchikan campaign, which connects travelers to restaurants, shopping, lodging, transportation, activities, and events in Ketchikan.

The Faces of Ketchikan’s print campaign also won a gold Hermes Creative Award in 2022, as did the website for Sweet Mermaids, a bakery and café on Front Street in Ketchikan. In a news release about the Hermes awards, Cape Fox Corporation stated, “Over the past few years, Cape Fox has increased its digital media, branding, public relations and communications, electronic media, and advertising initiatives. Cape Fox is proud to stand out with an award-winning communications team.”

The communications team’s award-winning work promotes Cape Fox Corporation’s endeavors to support its nearly 400 shareholders. The commercial group is grounded in the tourism industry and includes the Cape Fox Lodge; several eateries such as Sweet Mermaids, Bar Harbor Ale House, and 108 Taphouse; the Cape Fox Village Store, which sells fine Tlingit arts and gifts; and Cape Fox Tours, all of which focus on Southeast.

The village corporation has more than 700 worldwide employees, and outside of Southeast its growing federal contracting group provides government and commercial clients with emergent technology solutions, professional services, and healthcare services. The newest subsidiary in the federal contracting group is quite new: Cape Fox Endeavor was founded in 2021 and focuses on partnering with its customers to address organizational challenges, sharing its expertise in professional, technology, legal, medical, and engineering services.

Alaska Peninsula Corporation

According to Alaska Peninsula Corporation (APC), “Our lands are vast. Our lands are plentiful, sacred, and rich with opportunity. Our waters are pristine and abundant with life-sustaining purity. These are the elements of life unique to our people.” APC is one of the largest landowners in the Bristol Bay region, with more than 400,000 acres. Though named for a region, APC is indeed a village corporation, a merged entity representing more than 800 shareholders from Port Heiden, South Naknek, Ugashik, Kokhanok, and Newhalen. It operates seven subsidiaries that provide environmental consulting, remediation and research, construction, logistics and transportation, and administrative services, among others.

To house those subsidiaries and its corporate offices, in 2021 APC acquired a commercial office building with approximately 6,000 square feet of space in Anchorage. Previously APC leased the building, so buying instead of leasing reduced its facility costs by more than 50 percent. With the purchase APC was able to complete some minor renovations, including new paint and remodels on the first floor to accommodate a board room with conferencing capability.

One of its subsidiaries, Talarik Research & Restoration Services, was awarded a multi-year prime contract by the US Air Force to remove soil contaminated by PCBs at the Port Heiden Radio Relay Station. The project is a follow-up to a previous Talarik Research & Restoration Services project at Port Heiden for the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Field work began this summer, and the subsidiary plans to hire locally for labor while subcontracting equipment and operators from Aniakchak Contractors, a subsidiary of the Native Village of Port Heiden. The remediation project is slated for completion at the end of September 2023. According to CEO Dave McAlister, it’s the largest single contract awarded to an APC subsidiary to date.

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