BERING STRAITS NATIVE CORPORATION (BSNC)Introducing Our Diverse Region
The Bering Strait region encompasses the majority of Alaska’s Seward Peninsula and the coastal lands of eastern Norton Sound. The region spans an area of 23,000 square miles and includes the Seward Peninsula, King Island and Little Diomede Island. It includes the villages of Shishmaref, Wales, Diomede, Brevig Mission, Teller, King Island, Mary’s Igloo, Council, White Mountain, Solomon, Nome, Golovin, Koyuk, Shaktoolik, Unalakleet, Stebbins and St. Michael. The region’s coastline covers 570 miles along the Bering Sea, Norton Sound and the Chukchi Sea.
The region is one of the most culturally diverse regions in the state. Three distinct languages are spoken: Iñupiaq, Siberian Yupik and Central Yup’ik. For centuries, the areas north and west of Solomon were occupied by Iñupiaq speakers, while the area to the east and south was the homeland of Yup’ik peoples. The people of the Diomede and King Islands are Iñupiaq. Saint Lawrence Island is the home of the only Siberian Yupik people on the American side of Bering Strait.
The lifestyles and subsistence pursuits of people of the Bering Strait region were even more diverse than their languages. Inland caribou hunters and fishermen, exemplified by the Qawiaramiut people (now Mary’s Igloo and Teller Native Corporation), occupied most of the interior of the Seward Peninsula. Along the coast of Norton Sound, Unaliq people pursued sea mammals, fish and caribou. Approximately 40 miles off the mainland, the people on the islands of King Island, Diomede and Saint Lawrence Island hunted walrus, polar bear and seal and lived off of the ocean’s additional resources.
Around 160 years ago, small groups of people from the Selawik and Kobuk Rivers areas migrated south to Norton Sound. The migration may have been a result of famine, devastation from smallpox and/or the disappearance of local caribou herds. These Malemiut speakers (a dialect of Iñupiaq) married into the remaining families of Yup’ik speakers. Eventually, they settled in the communities of Koyuk, Shaktoolik and Unalakleet. The communities of St. Michael and Stebbins are the home of Central Yup’ik people.
There has been significant changes over the past 100 years, largely brought on by the introduction of cash into the local economy and the establishment of permanent communities, schools, churches and health services. Even so, subsisting off the land continues to be the central component of each community’s identity. The region’s people use cash to supplement and enhance subsistence pursuits. Respect for the ancient history of land use and natural resource stewardship is a testament to the strength and viability of the region’s people.
Bering Straits Native Corporation is Formed
BSNC was formed in 1972 as the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) regional Alaska Native Corporation (ANC) for the Bering Strait region. BSNC began with 6,333 original shareholders. Today, BSNC owns and manages nearly two million acres of subsurface land selected by 17 village corporations. The headquarter is located in Nome, Alaska.
After formation, BSNC only had until 1977 to file all land selections available through ANCSA. The first BSNC Board of Directors were faced with the task of identifying lands. They chose the following areas: Salmon Lake, Glacial Lake, the area along the Kougarok road to the Pilgrim River, and the north and south shores of Imuruk Basin delta and Windy Cove. While other regions in the state have timber or oil reserves, the Bering Strait region has minerals. For BSNC, this meant selecting areas with tin and gold potential (Cassiterite Peak, Mount Distin, the Kougarok area, and Christmas Mountain), possible oil and gas (Reindeer Cove), geothermal reserves (Lava Creek), and uranium and rare earth deposits (Mount Arathlatulik).
Immediately after the passage of ANCSA, Alaska’s regional corporations had to establish a corporate board. They need to invest seed capital from the ANCSA settlement and begin an intense process of land selections and eventual land and resource management. The experience and skill sets of many of the new corporate leaders did not easily translate into a corporate setting. In turn, BSNC made errors, and in some cases were the recipient of unscrupulous or inadequate investment and business advice. BSNC purchased companies and made investments. The long-term goal was to develop a business portfolio that enhanced the original ANCSA settlement. These often proved to be companies that looked promising but had little value as long-range growth strategies. As the late Charlie Johnson once said, “We bought a tire company with no tires and a construction company with no equipment.”
After the final payments to the village corporations in 1995, BSNC was a small and spare operation centered in Nome. BSNC emerged intact and stronger, largely because of the way company leadership looked to their ancestors for guidance. Leadership relied on strong cultural values honed by their ancestors, who survived for thousands of years in Alaska’s harsh environment. The foundation of teamwork pulled BSNC through the early days. BSNC’s recovery from bankruptcy marks significance in the corporation’s history. It established the expectation that the company will operate with integrity, honor, and resiliency when faced with change and challenges.
After emerging from bankruptcy in 1989, BSNC operations were based primarily in Nome. Because of the difficulties associated with the bankruptcy, the Board of Directors entered this new period cautiously. Their approach to business development and investment was not the same. BSNC avoided entering the 8(a) program early on, instead focused on building solid ventures in Nome.
In the early 1990’s, BSNC began a car rental service through Stampede Ventures. BSNC’s real estate portfolio was enhanced by multiple other pursuits: the construction of a new office building, the purchase of the Old Federal Building and the construction of the Aurora Executive suites in the mid-1990’s. It was in 1999 that BSNC finalized construction of the Aurora Inn & Suites. Today, it serves as the center for hotel rooms and car rentals in Nome.
BSNC established other business ventures in Nome during the early and mid-1990’s. One of those ventures was the development of Bering Straits Development Company (BSDC). BSDC has continued to grow and, as a result, provides electrical and construction services throughout western and northwest Alaska. As well as BSDC, BSNC pursued Sound Quarry Inc. (SQI) and Cape Nome Products (CNP). These businesses have provided rock for the sea walls in Shishmaref, Unalakleet and Nome and the causeway/port of Nome. Throughout the late 1980’s and 1990’s, the BSDC, SQI, CNP, Aurora Inn and Stampede Ventures successfully expanded. Consequently, today they continue as solid regional businesses that have significant shareholder and descendant hire.
BSDC was BSNC’s first entry into 8(a) contracting, becoming certified in 1994. One of the first 8(a) projects was an environmental cleanup on Anvil Mountain in the mid-1990s. In 2003, Inuit Services became BSNC’s initial 8(a) subsidiary. Since that time, BSNC has developed subsidiaries and partnerships to secure a strong position within the contracting sector.
Based on the success of Inuit Services, BSNC has continued to add numerous successful small businesses and 8(a) contracting companies, including Bering Straits Information Technology (BSIT), Global Support Services (GSS) and Bering Straits Logistics Services (BSLS).
Since 2013, BSNC has acquired three subsidiaries: Arcticom, Alaska Industrial Hardware and Northwest Contracting. Arcticom offers a broad range of information technology solutions. Alaska Industrial Hardware (AIH) is a leading statewide provider of construction equipment. AIH has locations throughout Alaska and supplies high-quality equipment, tools, industrial materials, maintenance supplies and safety products. AIH provides to a wide variety of businesses and customers, including government, commercial, and oil and gas development and production. Northwest Contracting is the most recent acquisition. Northwest Contracting is an Alaska-based industry leader in pavement marking and grooving.
BSNC’s mission is to improve the quality of life of our people through economic development while protecting our land and preserving our culture and heritage. The company has made significant progress in the past several years. BSNC has implemented strategic financial changes to fortify our path to long-term economic sustainability.
Since the passage of the ANCSA, BSNC has distributed more than $57 million in shareholder benefits. In fiscal year 2021, BSNC’s total operating revenues totaled more than $468 million. The company has come a long way since incorporation, and even further from where BSNC hit rock bottom in March of 1986, when the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In 2021, the Board of Directors declared a record-high dividend of $9.50 per share to be issued in December and a special Elder dividend of $1,500 in November.The total 2021 dividend distribution will be approximately $6.0 million. Since 1972, BSNC has distributed $39.1 million in regular dividends and $8.9 million in Elder dividends.
BSNC is proud to invest in its shareholders and descendants. BSNC extends hiring preference to qualified shareholders, descendants and shareholder spouses as permitted under federal law. The company is committed to preparing tomorrow’s leaders for the workforce. BSNC does this by providing paid internships and professional development training to qualified shareholder and descendant students each summer. Since 2013, there have been 59 interns. Currently, BSNC employs eight of those interns.
The BSNC Beringia Settlement Trust was created after the 2018 annual meeting of shareholders. Shareholders overwhelmingly voted to approve a resolution establishing the trust. The purpose of a settlement trust is to provide for the health, education, cultural preservation and economic welfare of Alaska Native people and descendants who are the “beneficiaries” of the settlement trust. Funds or assets in the trust must be invested and managed to provide benefits to the beneficiaries. Distributions from the trust can be made on a tax-free basis.
BSNC provides substantial financial support to the Beringia Settlement Trust (BST) Scholarship program. The Beringia Settlement Trust Scholarship program helps shareholders and their lineal descendants attain their educational and vocational goals. The program does this by offering scholarship, fellowship and mentorship opportunities. For the 2019/2020 academic year, BSNC donated $510,000 in educational funding. Since 1991, BSNC has provided more than $4 million in funding to support the post-secondary educational goals of BSNC shareholders and descendants. BSNC recently doubled scholarship funding for undergraduate, graduate and vocational BST student recipients.
In addition to these benefits, BSNC provides Shareholder Bereavement Assistance in the amount of $2,500. The assistance is to help defray the cost of funeral expenses for an original BSNC shareholder, a lineal descendent of an original BSNC shareholder, or the spouse of a living original BSNC shareholder.
A historic milestone was reached on July 30, 2020. On that day, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) signed a final patent transferring more than 2,000 acres of ANCSA land to BSNC. The land is located at Point Spencer, which is adjacent to Port Clarence. According to the legislation, the lands at Point Spencer are of national interest for the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard would like to conduct its duties in the Arctic in a more permanent manner. The conveyance allows for public and private sector facility and infrastructure development that will benefit the United States.
The lands being conveyed to BSNC at this time contain an 8,000-foot airstrip that was constructed by the Coast Guard. Additional lands will be transferred to BSNC at a future date, once environmental mitigation has been completed. The lands and adjacent waters of Port Clarence have served as a port of refuge for people of the Bering Strait region for centuries. The site holds important strategic geopolitical, as well as historic ancestral and cultural, significance.
Acquiring this land positions BSNC to support economic growth in the region and the State. The benefits are numerous, including helping to save lives and prevent pollution in the Arctic. Additionally, this provides a port of refuge for the increased shipping traffic through the Bering Strait, the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route. This land is one more way BSNC is focusing on growth in the Arctic. Having invested in regional shipping, resource development, tourism and related National Security concerns, BSNC is now poised to contribute to and participate in shaping the Arctic Future.
BSNC continues to meet challenges and strive for success. We reach for excellence in all ventures, from exploration for minerals on BSNC lands, to real estate, to government contracting. Most importantly, however, we place high value on the maintenance of the land base granted through ANCSA. This land is where many of our people depend for their subsistence and spiritual well-being.
Today, our company culture is unstoppable in its determination to fulfill its mission. BSNC is growing its value by investing in the communities where it operates and works. We hold true to our commitment to providing meaningful benefits to our shareholders. Moving forward into the Arctic future, we will continue to work towards increasing the company’s value while maximizing economic independence in our region and communities. We are looking forward to a Bright Arctic Future.