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Creating Opportunity and Building Pride for Alaska Natives in Southeast
Contributed by Sealaska

any passionate people fought in the ‘60s for a policy that would enable Alaska Natives to retain control of territory that had been their people’s homelands, a fight that resulted in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), passed by Congress in December 1971. Among those activists was Marlene Johnson, one of the vice presidents of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida at the time and ultimately a founder of, and director for, Sealaska.

“I think people need to know those people that fought for ANCSA were dedicated to the people of their region and Alaska,” Johnson told First Alaskans magazine in Spring 2021. “Those people working for the corporations and the passage of land claims were doing it out of love for the people and love for the land. I really appreciate them.”

The land was essential, not just to preserve traditional hunting, fishing, and cultural areas but also to ensure sustained economic opportunity for Alaska Natives. At Sealaska in Southeast Alaska, that economic opportunity started with timber and seafood, “two things that were natural to our people,” Johnson said.

Over the fifty years since ANCSA was passed, Sealaska’s businesses have evolved. Five years ago, the company closely examined its business operations and took deliberate steps to refocus them to align with shareholders’ heritage and values, while solving global problems. That meant the path forward involved investing in endeavors that contribute to health and balance for lands and oceans and address the inevitable impacts of climate change. It was an idea inspired by Sealaska’s owners, rooted in the collective wisdom, heritage, and knowledge of thousands of people and cultivated over thousands of years in Southeast Alaska.

This philosophy has inspired Sealaska to become an ocean sciences company, with growing capabilities to feed people well, clean up man-made messes, generate clean energy, and build thriving communities. For Sealaska, it’s about land and it’s about water. The corporation is building on its origins and its role as a steward to foster ocean health around the world, resulting in two key lines of business: sustainable seafood and global water science.

Sustainable Wild Seafood: One of the Best Things for Our Oceans

Inspiring people to eat more wild fish is an essential component of reversing climate change, says Sealaska CEO Anthony Mallott. And achieving that comes with a big challenge.

Even though people know seafood is good for them—and many know it’s also healthy for the planet—fewer than one in five Americans follow dietary guidelines to eat fish twice per week. Maybe they’ve had a bad experience or they aren’t confident about how to prepare it in a way that makes it enjoyable to eat.

As a company focused on ocean health, Sealaska sees overcoming these barriers as an opportunity. Sealaska wants to get people more comfortable with eating seafood and to leave them feeling good about doing it. That means building a global seafood business that’s deeply focused on consumers and crafting a strong brand identity that consumers can connect with emotionally. In the same way, for example, that people count on Godiva to sell them delicious, high-quality chocolate, with a trusted seafood brand, consumers can know they’re buying a product that comes from healthy fisheries, makes the most of every fish, localizes supply chains, and minimizes use of plastics.

Improving the Health of Water Systems

Sealaska’s global water science business is all about applying science to come up with and implement solutions to tough problems.

One example is a groundwater-remediation business that monitors groundwater systems, identifies pollutants, and crafts mitigation plans. The company’s capabilities include leading-edge injection technology that can reverse environmental damage underground.

Sealaska also has been carefully building the capacity to investigate and develop insight into the geology of the ocean floor—skills that are essential to properly designing offshore wind farms that generate clean energy. The company’s growing science expertise enables it to analyze and monitor other important elements of working in oceans, from climate to currents. It has also acquired a range of marine construction capabilities that are important for cleaning up aging oil and gas infrastructure.

Supporting and Advancing Communities

Johnson and others who worked hard to create the framework that birthed Alaska Native corporations hoped the result would perpetuate Alaska Native culture, advance education, and create a prosperous path for future generations.

Fifty years later, their hard work is paying off. Sealaska’s strong business results fueled an all-time high in shareholder benefits in 2020. As just one example, Sealaska’s scholarship endowment has more than doubled from three years ago and now sits at $20 million. Its existence means future generations of students will still be benefiting from an education the endowment makes possible. The company is funding Indigenous language revitalization and numerous other cultural investments, and it is actively supporting economic and workforce development in its communities. In September, Sealaska joined with several partner organizations to announce the launch of the Seacoast Trust, a new vision and funding model for community economic development and Indigenous stewardship in Southeast Alaska. Sealaska’s $10 million commitment to the trust is being matched with $7 million from The Nature Conservancy.

“It’s exciting to see how this model is working,” Mallott says. “Our business results are positive. More importantly, though, the deliberate approach to building our ability to address our planet’s most pressing problems is making a difference for future generations. We hope to continue on this path, with even greater impact and success, well into the future.”