CALISTA CORPORATION: “Culture and business: Reflecting on Calista’s 50 years since ANCSA” by Robert Beans and Andrew Guy

Culture and business: Reflecting on Calista’s 50 years since ANCSA

Posted in the Anchorage Daily News Opinion Section on 8/5/21 by Robert Beans and Andrew Guy

As the people of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Region, we practice subsistence by following qanruyutet (gan-ya-wu-DET), or ‘words of wisdom’ from our elders. They tell us food creates family bonds, and that elders wish good fortune upon those who help them. We may have harvested the seal, but if we do not share the bounty from the sea, we are not following qanruyutet.

The Calista Region is home to 56 villages spread out along the Bering Sea coast and two of Alaska’s mightiest rivers — the Yukon and Kuskokwim — and it encompasses 57,000 square miles. Calista Corporation’s land entitlement in the region is 6.5 million acres — less than 20% of the region.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), Calista Corporation is reflecting on what it means to be a successful business and promote our cultural values and traditional way of life.

Over the past 50 years, we explored business opportunities to provide jobs and benefits for our shareholders, while protecting and developing our resources on the lands our ancestors settled and depended on for thousands of years.

Calista’s business resilience is intrinsically linked to our values rooted in our Yup’ik, Cup’ik and Athabascan cultures in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Region. In addition, most residents in the region still speak their traditional languages. Data from the 2010 U.S. Census showed Yup’ik as the second-most common Native language spoken in the entire country.

Living a life in line with the words of wisdom from our elders is reflected by a willingness to share the bounty of the hunt. This spring Calista announced $8.1 million in distributions to shareholders — our largest distribution to date.

Since inception, Calista has declared more than $94 million in distributions to shareholders — more than half of which was distributed in the past five years. This is one way we fulfill Calista’s core value of service to shareholders, customers and the public.

Our corporate core value of teamwork, and meeting our commitments to one another, aligns with our traditional value of working together as a village to harvest what we need each season.

This teamwork helps all of us during hard times. For example, our early leaders recognized that some regions are richer in natural resources and therefore have more potential for economic development. The resulting provision of ANCSA — sharing revenue from natural resources — helped Calista and other Native corporations during our early financial hardships.

As required by ANCSA, Native corporations continue to distribute 70% of income from natural resource development with the other regional corporations, which in turn, distribute 50% of their share to village corporations in their regions. We work together to help each other.

This revenue sharing helped Calista make the investments that led to today’s business successes. Our Yulista holding line generated a record $400 million in revenue last year. Overall, Calista produced record revenues, net income and shareholders’ equity in 2020.

Continuous Learning, development and learning in all we do, is a corporate core value that aligns with the belief that we’ve been given ayuqucirtuutet (ah-yuu-go-JIHH-doo-det ) — or instructions — since we were children. These instructions tell us how to live proper lives and succeed in our ventures.

As our business flourished, in 2007, our shareholders voted to begin making annual Elder Benefit payments to our shareholders. In 2015, shareholders again voted to extend the benefits they receive from Calista with our descendants by allowing them to enroll and receive stock shares.

As a result of that second vote, Calista now has 33,700 shareholders, more than any other Alaska Native corporation.

Over the past year and a half, we have faced the worst pandemic in generations and hardships in many of our rural communities. This time of crisis calls us to hold fast to our core value of dedication and loyalty to our people and customers. It is vitally important to support our descendants and protect our elders — our cultural bearers — so we can continue to look to them to guide the future of our business through the lens of tradition and culture.

To all who have advised, assisted and supported Calista throughout our first 50 years: Quyana.

Andrew Guy is the President/CEO of Calista Corporation. He has served on the board of directors, worked as vice president of Yulista Management Services, and as Calista general counsel. He was born and raised in Napaskiak and grew up speaking Yup’ik.

Robert Beans is the Calista Corporation Board Chair, originally from Mountain Village. He is a veteran of the Alaska Army National Guard and serves as a member of the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative Board of Directors. His background includes military training and Officer Academy, Alaska State Trooper Academy, Rural Firefighter Instruction Training, and leadership training.