Alaska Native
Alaska Native Corporations

he Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was signed late in 1971 and paved the way for Alaska Native regional, village, and urban corporations to organize. While 2021 saw the 50th anniversary of the act itself, many of the corporations that were the result of the legislation date their creation anywhere from 1972 to 1974—and a few even later, as some early corporations merged to better meet the needs of their shareholders.

Considering the time and energy devoted to crafting the landmark act, it’s fitting to celebrate it and the corporations for more than one year.

One of the corporations celebrating half a century of operations in 2022 is Calista Corporation, whose land entitlement in the Yukon-Kuskokwim River Delta comprises 6.5 million acres, approximately 10 percent of Alaska’s entire land area and roughly equivalent in size to the state of New York. Most of this land is “split estate,” an arrangement in which Calista has rights to the subsurface estate and each of the fifty-six villages in the region has rights to the surface.

It’s been leveraging those lands, in addition to its allocation of funds from ANCSA, to see some phenomenal growth in five decades.

After fifty years, Calista is celebrating several significant milestones: in 2022 the corporation reached a total lifetime distribution of $100 million in dividends to its shareholders, and in 2021 the corporation had record revenue and profits, “which was pretty good in terms of the challenges we faced during the pandemic,” according to President and CEO Andrew Guy. At Calista, Guy explains, “We’re a pretty team-focused company, so a lot of our workers are encouraged to—and do—work as a team.” When the pandemic hit, the corporation focused on keeping a team approach while physically separated and teleworking.

Calista saw an opportunity in learning how to work differently during the pandemic, so it plans to keep a hybrid approach to its workspaces. “We know a lot of our employees do more and are more productive teleworking without office distractions,” Guy says, “but we still have projects where we need employees to be there [in the office], so we will continue to do both.”

The corporation plans to build on the success it has already found, and Guy says it has recently acquired three new companies to continue its expansion in the tech market. “We continue to expand the areas that we know that we’re good at, and that’s what we’ll be doing this year,” he says.

Calista is just one highlight among many when surveying ANCSA corporations and Alaska Native businesses. Updates on all twelve of the regional corporations and many of the village corporations can be found in the following pages. Beyond the ANCSA corporations, many Alaska Native individuals have taken great strides, as well, such as Hope Roberts, founder and owner of Surreel Saltwaters, who describes her journey to find a place in business and in her culture in “Marine Mammal Huntress.” She of course is not alone in her efforts to maintain Alaska Native culture, and in “Preserving Alaska Native Languages” we explore what’s being done to keep traditional Alaska dialects active.

Our special section also looks at Alaska Native corporations in the construction industry in “Solid Foundations.” In part because of the Small Business Administration 8(a) program, which allows minority-owned companies to participate in set-aside and sole-source government contracting, the construction industry has been a launching point for many ANCSA corporation subsidiaries. In fact, every one of the twelve regional corporations has a connection to this industry, as do many of the village and urban corporations.

And finally, “One City, Two Capitals” looks at the efforts of Sealaska Heritage Institute to perpetuate the Indigenous cultures of the Panhandle and establish Juneau as the capital of Northwest Coast art.

Across the board, when we reach out to Alaska Native corporations, small business owners, and nonprofit organizations, we get reports on growth. As we take stock of fifty years of operations, we look forward with great anticipation to the next fifty.