President’s Message: Making Progress in Challenging Times

Published July 2020

michelle andersonDear fellow shareholders,

In this issue we pay tribute to Ahtna’s Traditional First Chief Fred Ewan, who passed away on April 16th at the age of 103. I will remember Chief Ewan for his incredible energy, his amazing recall of traditional Ahtna knowledge (which includes our land and our language), his infectious laugh, his love for fiddle dancing and his embodiment of an older Ahtna era. He was a beloved Chief and will be sadly missed by his people.

Ahtna’s 47th Annual Shareholders Meeting on May 30th went smoothly but was unlike any meeting we have had before. COVID-19 group physical gathering restrictions prevented us from being able to conduct a typical annual shareholders meeting. With limited Ahtna staff, the Ahtna Board and board candidates in attendance, Chairman Johns gaveled us in, and the Inspector of Elections provided the election results. New board members took the oath of office and the meeting adjourned. While the meeting format was necessary to protect public health, we missed being able to connect with you in person.

We are happy to welcome newly elected directors Grant Rebne (Seat C, Cantwell) and Dorothy Shinn (Seat J, Tazlina) to the Ahtna, Inc. Board of Directors. Grant Rebne will also be serving on the Ahtna Netiye’ Executive Committee. We expressed our huge appreciation to Board of Directors Eleanor Dementi and Albert Fleury for their dedication and service to the Ahtna people. We are pleased to report that incumbent directors Ken Johns (Seat G1, Kluti-Kaah) and Nicholas Jackson (Seat A, At-Large) are returning to the Board.

To assist shareholders who are experiencing economic hardships as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trustees of Ahtna Hwt’aene (People’s) Trust declared a second 2020 special shareholder distribution of $10.00 per share as of the July 31, 2020 record date, to be distributed on August 14th. There is an Ahtna saying that we share in our employee safety communications, ‘Nts’e tkonii da ‘uzolyuun — be prepared for what might happen.’ These are important and time-tested words for us to learn from. In historical times, our people knew they had to stock caches along hunting and trapping trails if they were going to survive. They thought ahead and planned lifesaving solutions for many different scenarios. We trust that this dividend will help you to prepare.

Photo Courtesy of Governor’s Office.

Photo Courtesy of Governor’s Office.

After almost 50 years, the Gulkana Village Council has reached a resolution with the State of Alaska on the return of their former village lands and traditional burial grounds. Calling it a correction of injustice, Governor Dunleavy signed a memorandum of agreement on June 10th with the Gulkana Village Council and Ahtna, Inc. We are so thankful that our people’s many years of prayers have been answered.

In 1943, the cemetery was split when the Old Richardson Highway was built, forcing villagers to pick up the belongings they could carry and move to the other side of the road. In 1971, the BIA federal trustee deeded Gulkana’s former village lands to the State of Alaska without permission of the village. Since then, Gulkana has been working to have the land that was taken returned to the village.

There is a long history of hurt when it comes to this land. It’s hard for our people to talk about without becoming emotional, but now we can begin to heal. Our deepest appreciation to Governor Mike J. Dunleavy and his staff, Gulkana Village Council tribal members and Ahtna staff that worked together to show us the way to this agreement. We also remember and thank our Elders who are no longer with us but passed the torch to us to close this awful chapter in Ahtna history. Our Elders never gave up and as our Chair said at the signing, they would encourage us by saying, “enough talk, it’s time to do something.” A video of the outdoor signing with the Governor can be viewed at: https://vimeo.com/435223271.

Like many companies across the United States, our Corporation and family of companies are navigating very carefully in these uncertain times. We learned how to effectively telecommute and are finding new ways to communicate and stay connected. Due to the recent rise of positive COVID-19 cases in Anchorage, many of our employees continue to telecommute. If shareholders need assistance, staff can help with most requests over the phone or by email. If you feel you need to come in and meet with a staff person, please call ahead to make an appointment before coming into our offices as they remain closed to the public.

We have been meeting by video conference and telephone with our eight Ahtna tribes, our two tribal health organizations in the region, our housing authority, and Chitina Native Corporation (CNC). Our bi-weekly meetings are focused on ‘checking in’ to see how everyone is doing during this pandemic, discussing how they are preparing and keeping their villages safe, and seeing if they need assistance with pandemic-related issues. While we have had some positive cases in our region, our people have been vigilant about preventing further spread of the virus. It is incredibly difficult for our villages to stockpile much needed food items, paper products, dog food, and medical necessities due to limits on what individual shoppers can purchase in Anchorage or Fairbanks. We are working with our village and regional leadership to address the supply issue going into the fall and winter seasons.

The Board of Directors obligated $1M in 2019 and 2020 to the new HOPE (Helping Our People Excel) Shareholder Program. This investment in our greatest resource, our people, is already showing positive results (see here). Our people are having a wonderful impact in their villages working on community projects while gaining valuable experience they can carry with them.

Unfortunately Ahtna lost the bid to construct a new building for the Glennallen Courthouse. The Alaska Court System will continue to lease their current space in our Glennallen building through the spring of 2021.

Photo by ZAG Photography.

Photo by ZAG Photography.

Congratulations to our class of 2020 shareholder graduates! The ceremonies and celebrations may have looked different this year, but this is still your time to shine and we are delighted to be able to share your accomplishments in this issue. Your commitment to furthering your education is admirable, and you are making not only your family proud, but everyone here at Ahtna.

Tsin’aen,

Michelle Anderson, President
Ahtna, Incorporated