The Bering Strait region encompasses the majority of Alaska’s Seward Peninsula and the coastal lands of eastern Norton Sound and is one of the most culturally diverse regions. The region encompasses an area of 23,000 square miles and includes the Seward Peninsula, St. Lawrence Island, King Island and Little Diomede Island. The region’s coastline is 570 miles along the Bering Sea, Norton Sound and the Chukchi Sea. 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, St. Michael, Elim, Gambell and Savoonga. Three distinct languages are spoken including Inupiaq, Siberian Yupik and Central Yup’ik. For centuries, the areas north and west of Solomon were occupied by Inupiaq 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 Inupiaq. 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, north of the Bering Strait region, migrated south to Norton Sound. This migration may have been the result of a famine, devastation brought on by smallpox and the disappearance of the local caribou herds. These Malemiut speakers (a dialect of Inupiaq) married into the remaining families of Yup’ik speakers, and eventually settled in the communities of Koyuk, Shaktoolik and Unalakleet. The communities of St. Michael and Stebbins are the home of Central Yup’ik people.
The introduction of cash into the local economy and the establishment of permanent communities, schools, churches and health services brought significant change over the past 100 years yet subsisting off the land continues to be the central component of each community’s identity. Our 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 our region’s people.
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 and owns and manages nearly two million acres of subsurface land selected by 17 village corporations. BSNC is headquartered 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. Areas chosen were 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 were required to establish a corporate board, 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. BSNC made errors, and in some cases was the recipient of unscrupulous or inadequate investment and business advice. Companies were purchased and investments made with the long-term goal of developing a business portfolio that would enhance 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 because company leadership relied on strong cultural values honed by their ancestors, who survived for thousands of years in Alaska’s harsh environment. BSNC’s recovery from bankruptcy has been based on the foundation of teamwork and the expectation that the company will operate with integrity, honor and the ability to respond to change and challenges.
A CAUTIOUS APPROACH
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 with a cautious approach to business development and investment. BSNC avoided entering the 8(a) program early on, instead focusing on building solid ventures in Nome.
In the early 1990’s BSNC began a car rental service through Stampede Ventures. Construction of a new office building, purchase of the Old Federal Building and the construction of the Aurora Executive suites in the mid-1990’s enhanced BSNC’s real estate portfolio. In 1999, the Aurora Inn & Suites construction was finalized and it now serves as the center for hotel rooms and car rentals in Nome.
Other business ventures in Nome were established during the early and mid-1990’s, and Bering Straits Development Company (BSDC) has grown since that time and now provides electrical and construction services throughout western and northwest Alaska, as well as general construction. Sound Quarry Inc. (SQI) and Cape Nome Products (CNP) 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 and they continue today 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.
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, Global Support Services and Bering Straits Logistics Services.
Since 2013, BSNC has acquired three subsidiaries including Arcticom which offers a broad range of information technology solutions. Alaska Industrial Hardware or 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 to a wide variety of Alaskan businesses and customers, including government, commercial, and oil and gas development and production customers. The most recent acquisition is Northwest Contracting. Northwest is an Alaska-based industry leader in pavement marking and grooving.
BSNC TODAY – A MISSION BEYOND BUSINESS
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 past several years have been very progressive for BSNC, as strategic financial changes have been implemented to fortify our path to long-term economic sustainability.
Since the passage of the ANCSA, BSNC has distributed more than $48 million in shareholder benefits. In fiscal year 2021, BSNC’s total operating revenues totaled more than $468 million. We have come a long way from where we started, and even further from where we hit rock bottom in March of 1986, when BSNC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Last year, the BSNC Board of Directors declared a record-high dividend of $8.33 per share to be issued in December and a special Elder dividend of $1,500 in November. In total, $6.9 million in dividends has been distributed to BSNC shareholders in FY21.
BSNC extends hiring preference to qualified shareholders, descendants and shareholder spouses as permitted under federal law. BSNC is helping prepare tomorrow’s leaders for the workforce by providing paid internships and professional development training to qualified shareholder and descendant students each summer. Since 2013, there have been 59 interns since 2013 and currently 8 interns remain employed with BSNC.
The BSNC Beringia Settlement Trust was created after shareholders overwhelmingly voted to approve a resolution establishing the trust at the 2018 annual meeting of shareholders. 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 only for the purpose of providing benefits to the trust beneficiaries. Distributions from the trust can be made on a tax-free basis.
BSNC is very proud to invest in its shareholders and descendants. 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 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 $2,500 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.
PORT CLARENCE & A BRIGHT ARCTIC FUTURE
A historic milestone was reached when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) signed a final patent transferring more than 2,000 acres of ANCSA land at Point Spencer, adjacent to Port Clarence, to BSNC on July 30, 2020. According to the legislation, the lands at Point Spencer are of national interest for the Coast Guard to more permanently conduct its duties in the Arctic. 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, and 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 and the site holds important strategic geopolitical as well as historic ancestral and cultural significance.
It will also support economic growth in the region and the State, help save lives, prevent pollution in the Arctic, and provide a port of refuge for the increased shipping traffic through the Bering Strait, the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route. With the growing focus on the Arctic and increasing 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 of our ventures, from exploration for minerals on BSNC lands, to real estate, to government contracting and, importantly, for the maintenance of the land base granted on which 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 in which we work and live and by holding true to its commitment to providing meaningful benefits to its shareholders. Moving forward into the Arctic future, we will continue to work towards increasing BSNC’s value while maximizing economic independence in our region and communities. We are looking forward to a Bright Arctic Future.