The Tlingit Culture, Language and Literacy Dance Group performs for attendees at Goldbelt Inc.’s 50th-anniversary celebration on Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The Tlingit Culture, Language and Literacy Dance Group performs for attendees at Goldbelt Inc.’s 50th-anniversary celebration on Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Goldbelt celebrates 50th anniversary with tributes, prayer, dancing and hopes for future

Leaders of local Alaska Native Regional Corporation looking ahead generations rather than years.

A new building and new home for three historic totem poles towered over Goldbelt Inc.’s 50th-anniversary celebration on Thursday, with presenters from elders to youths sharing stories, prayer, dances and hopes for a future measured in centuries rather than years.

More than 100 Goldbelt shareholders and local leaders gathered at midday at what top officials at the Alaska Native Regional Corporation are calling the Goldbelt campus in Vintage Business Park. One totem was in front of the new building, one in front of the company’s existing headquarters and the third at an entrance to a parking lot between the two buildings, where a tent to shelter attendees at the ceremony from occasional light rain stood.

A celebratory sign stands outside Goldbelt Inc.’s new building during the Alaska Native Regional Corporation’s 50th-anniversary celebration on Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A celebratory sign stands outside Goldbelt Inc.’s new building during the Alaska Native Regional Corporation’s 50th-anniversary celebration on Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Leaders from decades past talked about landmark moments in Goldbelt’s founding, while current top officials focused on the company’s present-day activities and future goals.

“We are here 50 years, but as we know the Tlingit culture has been here far, far longer — thousands of years,” said Katherine Eldemar, a member of Goldbelt’s board of directors, during a series of speeches by top officials during the two-hour ceremony. “And that is what we expect Goldbelt Inc. to be. Many, many, many generations from now on when we are all dust, and we are all returned to the earth and we are no longer here in this physical form, Goldbelt Inc. will be here. And our children and our children’s children will benefit from the leadership that does what is right, not what’s convenient.”

Eldemar noted that 50 years ago “you could buy a Ford Mustang for $8,300 and change (and) an average home was under $36,000.” A lot has changed since then, including Goldbelt’s focus as a corporation.

“In the old days, back in the ‘80s, we were basically a timber harvesting organization and that was the business, the cash flow,” she said. “Fast forward to today, over 90% of Goldbelt’s revenues come from our federal contracting, the federal government. And we hold ourselves up and we ask management to maintain the highest standards, the gold standard, when it comes to Goldbelt’s business because we want to have an excellent reputation so that we continue to be successful in our federal contracting industry.”

Emil Notti, the first president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, discusses during Goldbelt Inc.’s 50th-anniversary celebration on Thursday the difficult discussions that resulted in his tie-breaking vote to include Southeast Alaska Native Corporations in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Emil Notti, the first president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, discusses during Goldbelt Inc.’s 50th-anniversary celebration on Thursday the difficult discussions that resulted in his tie-breaking vote to include Southeast Alaska Native Corporations in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Honored by several Goldbelt leaders before he offered a featured speech was Emil Notti, the first president of the Alaska Federation of Natives and a key figure in the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). He cast the tie-breaking vote to include Southeast Alaska Native entities into AFN, which also resulted in the region’s Native Corporations — including Goldbelt — receiving a total of $7.2 million and 290,000 acres of land.

“We knew we needed Southeast’s support, and their strength and experience,” Notti said, describing the lengthy discussion that took place with attorneys, politicians and others involved in the ANCSA discussion. “By working together and sticking together we were able to persevere.”

“After 50 years it’s great to see the progress that’s being made, the strength of the company,” he said. “The good that you’re doing. The buildings that you’re putting up Alaska. The land claims has been good for Alaska. When you look around cities there are nice new office buildings, they pay taxes…so we’re good for the economy of Alaska and I expect that for the next 50 years, the 100 years — we’ll do a lot more.”

Goldbelt, formed with 2,722 original shareholders, now represents more than 3,700 shareholders and descendants, and has about 2,000 employees, according to company officials. The 272,000 shares of Goldbelt stock represent assets of more than $100 million, plus more than 32,000 acres of land in the Juneau area.

Goldbelt Inc. board members receive handmade jackets during the Alaska Native Regional Corporation’s 50th-anniversary celebration on Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Goldbelt Inc. board members receive handmade jackets during the Alaska Native Regional Corporation’s 50th-anniversary celebration on Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

As a gift for the 50th-anniversary celebration, Goldbelt’s board of directors approved a one-time $50 special benefit for each shareholder with voting stock to be paid out on Jan. 4, said McHugh Pierre, Goldbelt’s president and CEO, in his opening remarks as the emcee of the event.

“We also reached a milestone in our strategic plan,” he said. “The Goldbelt Ancestral Trust that you created in 2014 now has a $30 million principal in it. And that is a huge milestone that we have reached. With that principal it will pay its first dividend to shareholders in spring of 2025. And that is tremendous, that is so far ahead of schedule.”

Goldbelt is planning additional anniversary celebration events throughout the year, including at the Goldbelt Tram and aboard a new catamaran added to the company’s tour boat fleet, Pierre said.

A portion of the event was dedicated to the history of the relocated 30-foot-high totem poles — including the Legends and Beliefs, Creation of Killer Whale, and Strongman totems — crafted by Tlingit artists Ray Peck and Jim Marks.

The totems were relocated last year from the downtown building where the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. is headquartered, which was originally named Goldbelt Place when it was built in 1991 until years later it was renamed the Michael J. Burns Building in memory of a former longtime APFC executive director who died.

Three totem poles relocated from Goldbelt’s former building downtown are placed at its new campus in Vintage Business Park in time for the Alaska Native Regional Corporation’s 50th-anniversary celebration on Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Three totem poles relocated from Goldbelt’s former building downtown are placed at its new campus in Vintage Business Park in time for the Alaska Native Regional Corporation’s 50th-anniversary celebration on Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

APFC purchased the building from Goldbelt in 1998, with the contract allowing the company to buy back its artworks for $1 apiece, which Goldbelt did in 2021 because of the building’s renaming and intent to place the totems at the new headquarters.

Also providing a cultural contribution were students from the Tlingit Culture, Language and Literacy Dance Group who performed several songs. At one point in the ceremony there was also a call for those gathered to bow in prayer.

“One of the things that sets us apart, I believe, from different boards is we pray,” Gail Dabaluz, the board’s secretary, before the call was issued by another board member. “We pray for our shareholders. We pray before we make every single decision to advance this company forward.”

Among the final speakers was Goldbelt’s first CEO, Joseph Kahklen, who served 35 years on the board. He noted that the ANCSA money went to shareholders, not the company, which meant it had to borrow its initial startup funds.

“So many people risked what they had by signing the loan document to get Goldbelt started,” he said. “We all had dreams and we thought they were fanciful. So it’s really a pleasure to stand here and see what has been accomplished through the years. It has been pointed out there have been struggles, but we managed to work through those and now we can celebrate some real success for this corporation. And I just want to thank all those that trusted me and allowed me to be a part of the beginning.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

The Tlingit Culture, Language and Literacy Dance Group performs for attendees at Goldbelt Inc.’s 50th-anniversary celebration on Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The Tlingit Culture, Language and Literacy Dance Group performs for attendees at Goldbelt Inc.’s 50th-anniversary celebration on Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Goldbelt Inc. shareholders and other guests help themselves to the buffet in the Alaska Native Regional Corporation’s new building during the company’s 50th-anniversary celebration on Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Goldbelt Inc. shareholders and other guests help themselves to the buffet in the Alaska Native Regional Corporation’s new building during the company’s 50th-anniversary celebration on Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

McHugh Pierre, Goldbelt’s president and CEO, discusses the present and future plans of the Alaska Native Regional Corporation during its 50th-anniversary celebration on Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

McHugh Pierre, Goldbelt’s president and CEO, discusses the present and future plans of the Alaska Native Regional Corporation during its 50th-anniversary celebration on Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

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