Thousands of additional people are now eligible to be Sealaska Corp. shareholders following a recent vote.
After a 57%-40% vote by its shareholders, the Sealaska Corp. announced it will extend shareholder eligibility to people of Alaska Native lineal descendants without requiring proof of a one-quarter Alaska Native blood quantum, a previous requirement to be a shareholder.
Now, the newly invited descendants are able to enroll as Class D (Descendants) shareholders, which was enacted immediately after the announcement was made on Saturday. The decision follows companies like Calista and Arctic Slope Regional Corporation who had already dropped their once required one-quarter blood quantum documentation in order to be a shareholder.
The modification still requires applicants to provide proof of their lineage but eliminates the need for a blood quantum to qualify. The decision was a necessary step to continue the future of the shares through each generation, said Sealaska Board Chair Joe Nelson.
“Blood quantum really only goes in one direction. As we look to the past, we also look to the future,” he said. “We have values that keep us looking toward our ancestors, but at the same time we’re also looking forward.”
Nelson said the decision is really more of a modification to the already existing resolution voted on in 2007. That resolution allowed descendants of original shareholders to enroll, but still required a one-quarter blood quantum and applicants had to be born after 1971.
Nelson said that even though there could be as many as approximately 15,000 people who will be able to enroll as shareholders because of this decision, that likely won’t be the case. He thinks it will be similar to the number of people who enrolled in 2007, which was less than estimated and took place over an extended period.
“Over the next 10 years, maybe only half of those people will enroll. There is a difference between who can enroll, and those who actually do enroll,” he said.
Although there was a divided opinion among the 23,000 shareholders of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian descent on whether the decision should have been passed, Nelson said he believes many people are excited to be able to pass their shares down to the future generations. And, it also serves as a chance for the company to be more inclusive.
“I think many of us are excited to open the door to our grandkids —to all our grandkids, not just some of them,” he said. “The company is tied to a specific place, and we firmly believe that our grandparents would have wanted to open the door for our grandkids.”
However, some shareholders do not agree.
“We’ll be on the outside looking in,” said Edith McHenry, an elder and shareholder. She said that the recent decision will negatively affect current shareholders and she is disheartened by the decision.
McHenry, who worked for Sealaska from 1980 to 1999, said the company was not straightforward with her and many of the elders she knows about the extension of eligibility and believes many current shareholders do not agree with the decision.
“We gave a little, and now they want the whole enchilada,” McHenry said. “I think the original intended beneficiaries, people who are one quarter or more, are going to become a minority within their own corperation. The ones who are primarily going to be impacted by this are elders.”
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.