Russ Slaten | Calista Corporation
Open Lines of Communication
How Alaska Native corporations stay in touch with shareholders
By Alexandra Kay

n 1971 the iPhone, Facebook, and Tesla were not yet a glint in a designer’s eye. However, there was one innovation that created a new form of self-determination for Alaska Native people.

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) formed Alaska Native corporations that are responsible for the social, cultural, and economic well-being of the Alaska Native people from their ancestral homelands. The groundbreaking act created socially conscious, shareholder-owned corporations designed from the start to focus on serving the needs of their people rather than growing a stock price.

Aligned with this mission and similar to other shareholder-owned corporations, ANCSA required that Alaska Native corporations keep shareholders apprised of company business.

“We’re required by law to hold shareholder meetings to conduct the business of the company. No different than Apple or Microsoft, we are required to report performance to shareholders,” says Ethan Tyler, senior director of corporate affairs for Cook Inlet Region, Inc. (CIRI). “The important distinction is that Alaska Native corporations have a social and an economic responsibility to shareholders, which is very different to a traditional corporation. When you bring shareholders, descendants, and their families together, they celebrate their Alaska Native heritage, culture, and family connections.”

Although they are for-profit entities, because of their unique nature, Alaska Native corporations manage their shareholder relations somewhat differently than other publicly held companies. Here are some examples of the channels that regional corporations open for communications.

“We have corporate responsibilities, but we really see connecting with shareholders as the benefit we get. They are our cousins and aunties.”
Laura Muller, Corporate Affairs Manager, Koniag
Koniag Connections
There are 1 million ANCSA-conveyed acres in the Koniag region on and around Kodiak Island, and the corporation has about 4,400 shareholders with which it communicates in a variety of ways.

The corporation’s annual shareholder meeting is held in October and rotates among three locations: Anchorage, Kodiak, and Seattle. This is done to give the largest number of people the opportunity to participate. The annual meeting has also been webcasting for several years now.

“It is about our people, making sure they can easily access information—in a variety of ways—on what we are doing. We’ve streamlined the meetings as much as we can to keep the information relevant,” says Laura Muller, Koniag corporate affairs manager. “We’ve added music and Alutiiq dancing because we know our shareholders thirst for that connection.”

The company also offers prizes at the annual meetings, and time is scheduled for the company’s board members to have lunch with shareholders after the meeting itself. Muller notes, “The food, connection, and time together is just as important as getting the business of the meeting done.”

In addition to the annual shareholder meetings, Koniag hosts December holiday parties in Anchorage, Kodiak, and Seattle. In July, the company has picnics in the same three locations, and shareholders take part in picnic games and share in both culture and food. “We bring traditional foods and things from home, and it’s a chance to visit with a lot of laughter, hugging, and connecting,” says Muller. Other events include an Elder’s Luncheon held in Kodiak each May and a Russian New Year Celebration held in Kodiak each January.

Every September, the company hosts town hall meetings in Anchorage, Kodiak, Seattle, Soldotna, Portland, Port Lions, Ouzinkie, Akhiok, Larsen Bay, and Old Harbor. (There is no town hall meeting each year in the location where the annual meeting is held.) “We have open mics where people can comment, and we really want to hear our shareholder’s voices. We take their input seriously,” says Muller. “One of our core values is to be open and honest, and part of that is accountability to elders and peers. We really want to be transparent.”

Koniag also communicates with shareholders throughout the year in various other ways. In addition to social media postings, there are traditional print communications like an annual proxy statement and an annual report in addition to quarterly newsletters and post cards. “But we don’t just stick with corporate information,” says Muller. “Our shareholders want to hear about the community, the youth that got scholarships to attend a basketball or music camp.”

“You want to make sure that your outreach includes as many methods as possible so that you’re communicating with as many stakeholders as possible.”
Ethan Tyler
Senior Director of Corporate Affairs
CIRI’s Sphere
CIRI has more than 9,000 shareholders and has about 1.6 million acres of ANCSA-conveyed land. The corporation holds shareholder meetings throughout the year, says Tyler. “In the spring, we host a series of information meetings to provide an update on company performance from the previous year.” Information meetings are held in Anchorage, Kenai, and in the Pacific Northwest.

“These meetings provide the opportunity for the CIRI family of shareholders and descendants to gather together and share in Alaska Native culture, heritage, and family stories. Coming together in person this last year has made all the difference in the world,” says Tyler. “Providing the opportunity to connect with one another personally is such an important part of the CIRI family.”

In the fall, the company holds its Fall Friendship Potlatches in the same three locations. These three meetings are culturally rooted gatherings where attendees share a meal and thanks and recognize those that were lost the previous year.

Once a year, CIRI holds its annual meeting that includes more sharing, storytelling, and cultural entertainment, in addition to conducting the company’s business. “We report to shareholders on the performance of the company and elect board members,” says Tyler. While the information meetings share performance from the previous year, the annual meeting is more forward-looking, says Tyler, in that the strategy for the upcoming year is shared. CIRI’s annual meeting takes always place on the first Saturday in June.

In addition to the meetings, CIRI communicates with all of its stakeholders through the company’s website, a bimonthly newsletter (both printed and electronic), direct email, social media, and event video content. CIRI also produces an Annual Report for both shareholders and descendants in the spring. “From a broad perspective, we try to reach as many people as possible through as many means as possible,” notes Tyler. “CIRI’s communications are intended to provide connections for everyone in the CIRI family.” Information communicated to stakeholders includes updates on the happenings of the corporation and information on benefits, programs, and Alaska Native cultural resources.

“Our team looks forward to these events as an opportunity to connect with families, hear how people are doing, and respond to shareholder questions and concerns… These meetings are an opportunity to celebrate the individuals, families, and communities who make up Doyon’s shareholder family.”
Cheyenna Kuplack
Communications Manager
Doyon, Limited
Doyon Dialogues
Doyon, Limited has more than 20,400 shareholders and holds the largest amount of land out of all the regional Alaska Native Corporations.

Every March, the company holds its annual meeting of shareholders in Fairbanks, where the election of board members and the discussion of the company’s operations for the fiscal year take place.

The company holds Dialogue with Doyon meetings in four villages in the Doyon region each year, and annual meetings are also held in Anchorage and the Pacific Northwest to connect with shareholders in urban and rural areas who can’t afford to attend the March annual meeting. “The Dialogue with Doyon meetings provide shareholders with an update on our business activities, a question-and-answer period, and an opportunity to discuss any concerns,” says Cheyenna Kuplack, Doyon, Limited communications manager. “These are important gatherings for our shareholders to attend and listen to presentations on Doyon’s operations, visit with Doyon board members, and ensure that their information is current and that they have a stock will.”

In addition to its annual meeting and Dialogue with Doyon events, the corporation hosts meet and greets, which are informal opportunities to meet with Doyon’s team and update shareholder records. As of late June of this year, they had been held in Anchorage, Holy Cross, Kenai, Portland, Seattle, and Wasilla.

Doyon, Limited provides information before meetings through mailed postcard invitations, emails, and social media. “Our team looks forward to these events as an opportunity to connect with families, hear how people are doing, and respond to shareholder questions and concerns,” says Kuplack. “These meetings are an opportunity to celebrate the individuals, families, and communities who make up Doyon’s shareholder family.”

Doyon, Limited’s communications team shares information in monthly electronic and quarterly printed newsletters as well. Its website and social media are updated regularly with news, events, and job opportunities.

“In addition, our team focuses on rural outreach across our region through the monthly Village Connection, an e-news bulletin, where Doyon’s goal is to keep communities informed on upcoming state and federal projects that will potentially impact our communities,” says Kuplack. The company also hosts a monthly radio show on KRFF, Voice of Denali, a Fairbanks-based radio station broadcast to the Interior to highlight department programs and outreach efforts in regional villages.

“CIRI shareholders and descendants are a big part of the CIRI family, and when we gather together and share in culture and heritage and family stories and updates, it makes all the difference in the world.”
Ethan Tyler
Senior Director of Corporate Affairs
Calista Gets Around
With more than 36,000 shareholders, Calista Corporation is the largest of the Alaska Native regional corporations by number of shareholders. The company owns more than thirty subsidiaries and provides services in a wide range of areas, including heavy equipment sales, oil field services, and more.

Because travel to the communities in which Calista shareholders live is so expensive, the Calista board of directors decided to hold an annual meeting in all of its Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta (YK) villages. “We have held meetings in thirty-five YK communities,” says Thom Leonard, vice president for corporate affairs. “Also, the annual meeting of shareholders is held at least once every five years in Bethel and at least once every seven years in Anchorage.”

Calista also has a shareholder relations committee that travels to between ten and twenty communities in the YK region to give company updates and give shareholders an opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback on company leadership. “We suspended these in-person meetings during the pandemic and are happy to have resumed them earlier this year,” says Leonard.

The company also communicates with shareholders through various print and electronic means. A print newsletter with both company and shareholder news is mailed every other month, and one is emailed to those who have signed up for a biweekly electronic newsletter. It publishes an annual report that provides the company’s financial performance. Company announcements are put on its social media pages and website. They’re also shared with local media in the YK region. “We regularly call into the public radio station, KYUK in Bethel, to reach shareholders who are listening to local discussion topics,” says Leonard. “For shareholders who are not directly connected to our website or social media channels, we send announcements to and advertise in the Delta Discovery, a Bethel-based, shareholder-owned weekly newspaper.”

Keeping in Touch
These four Alaska Native regional corporations had much the same advice for keeping shareholders in the loop:

Meet shareholders where they are: “[Get] any messaging out to stakeholders in as many different ways as possible,” says CIRI’s Tyler. “For us, some people like digital communications. Other people like printed information. Some people really thrive on the in-person. You want to make sure that your outreach includes as many methods as possible so that you’re communicating with as many stakeholders as possible.”

For Calista Corporation, that includes traveling to meet shareholders in their physical location as well as providing regular updates through social media. “Many people in our region are using social media to get news, share useful information, and stay in touch with each other,” says Leonard.

Make it a two-way conversation: Get feedback from shareholders. “It’s part of that transparency and accountability,” says Koniag’s Muller. “We have corporate responsibilities, but we really see connecting with shareholders as the benefit we get. They are our cousins and aunties. Anyone you speak with would say the opportunity to speak and communicate with shareholders is the best thing.”