Summer is a beautiful time of year in the Bering Strait region. Ice and snow have given way in the warmer weather to open tundra and flowing waters. I have enjoyed reading the posts on social media of our Spring subsistence activities, including the harvests of abundant amounts of herring roe on seaweed, migratory bird eggs, salmon and marine mammals. Soon, salmonberries, blueberries, blackberries and cranberries will ripen and be harvested and either frozen, canned or made into jams or jellies for future use. I am thankful for all that our lands and seas provide, and proud that our time-honored tradition of sharing our rich subsistence harvests with our Elders and others continues to be a core value for us. Our subsistence way of life is a critical cornerstone of BSNC’s mission: “To improve the quality of life of our people through economic development while protecting our land and preserving our culture and heritage.”
I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate all of the 2017 high school and college graduates, and deliver a special message to young people starting out in their careers. To the friends and families of graduates, I applaud you too for the sacrifices you have made in your efforts to support your loved ones as they worked to earn their educational degrees.
Graduation marks the end of one chapter in a person’s life and the beginning of the next. The current successes of many Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) like BSNC have meant that a generation of Alaska Natives have grown up benefitting from scholarships, dividends and other shareholder benefits that ANCs provide.
I share this because it’s important to take note of progress and to remember our early Native leaders who made these benefits possible. They fought for our rights with very little formal education and financial resources. They did the best they could with available resources, despite being thrust into a corporate world that few understood or had prior experience working in.
Today’s graduates have the opportunity to serve Alaska Native people during a very complex time. Our state faces major challenges ahead. On the positive side, ANCs currently have a profound positive impact on the state’s economy, while at the same time delivering benefits to our shareholders and descendants. ANCSA corporations rank among the top revenue-generating companies in the state. However, ANCSA has not solved all of the social ills that our people currently face. Today’s graduates have an opportunity to help make things better. They can build upon early mistakes that were made, apply what we have collectively learned since then, and make progress from a stronger position.
We Alaska Native people have thrived in remarkably difficult conditions for thousands of years. We are resilient. We adapt to changes and yet remain steadfast in our tradition of looking out for each other. One universal value found across all Alaska Native cultures is a strong responsibility to our families and communities. Young people — you are in a unique position to leverage your achievements and special responsibilities to build upon the successes and failures of ANCSA to make the work you do a blessing to the people you serve.
I challenge you to work with purpose to build alliances and tackle the social and other issues that we face. Ensure that your company’s mission is upheld. I also challenge you to take on meaningful projects throughout your career and serve as an ally to Alaska Native people. Work to empower the next generation with the tools, knowledge and skills they will need to make their own positive impact.
Step outside of your comfort zone and do something that generations before you never thought possible. Making an impact requires more than a vision and passion. Your education has taught you to be organized. To be strategic. To see a problem and not view it as such, but as an opportunity use your creative skills to find solutions. Use those skills well to light your path with purpose, and to pave the way for the next generation to improve upon your successes.
Quyaana and I hope everyone has a safe and productive Summer.
Gail R. Schubert