Calista Corporation Celebrates 50th Anniversary
Our Elders Share Memories from Calista’s Incorporation
June 7, 2021 | Adapted from the 2021 Calista Annual Report
From time immemorial, Elders have guided and instructed us on what we must do. In the 1960s, they encouraged young, English-speaking Alaska Native men and women to fight for our lands.
These young people helped negotiate and implement the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), which created 12 regional corporations and over 200 village corporations, and entitled them to 40 million acres of land and nearly $1 billion in compensation for land lost in the settlement agreement.
The young Alaska Native men and women made sacrifices to work on the land claims—paying for their own travel and meals to participate in meetings. Like many others, Robert Nick of Nunapitchuk left his full-time job, spending weeks and months at a time away from his young wife and small daughter.
“I always remember a gentleman from Kasigluk, who was looking right at me and said they tried their best to lead with what little education they had. And he looked at me closer, with wide-open eyes, and he said, ‘You have all got more education than we have, and you can lead us from here on.’ And that’s what instilled in me that we need to stand up to this effort.”Robert Nick, Calista incorporator and original board member
Calista’s Five Incorporators
President Richard Nixon signed ANCSA on December 18, 1971, but the bill did not create Calista overnight.
After ANCSA passed, the Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP) board met to discuss how to move forward. The board members at the time included Robert Nick, Fred Notti, then of Aniak, Elizabeth Joe (Beans), then of Nightmute, the late Philip Guy of Kwethluk, and the late Moses Paukan and William Tyson, both of St. Mary’s.
The AVCP board decided to create a separate, for-profit ANCSA corporation, called Calista, meaning “the worker,” while retaining AVCP as the regional nonprofit corporation. In June 1972, five of the board members—Nick, Notti, Beans, Tyson and Guy—traveled to Washington, D.C. to serve as Calista’s incorporators.
Each of these incorporators played an important role in our Region, before and after Calista’s formation.
Nick, for example, became heavily involved in the federal anti-poverty programs of the 1960s, helping form the statewide nonprofit RurAL CAP and its related nonprofit in Bethel, Yupiktak Bista. He was also involved in the creation of the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) and the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation.
Fred Notti owned a flight service at various times based in Bethel, Aniak and St. Mary’s. To this day he is remembered for donating his time, his plane and fuel to pick up AFN delegates throughout Alaska for meetings on land claims legislation. He also served as Calista’s first president.
Elizabeth Joe (Beans) worked in education. She was Calista’s board secretary during the June 1972 meeting when the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) approved Calista’s organizing papers, according to an interview with the late Paul Dixon, an AVCP consultant, published in the 2012 book, Mission of Change in Southwest Alaska, by Ann Fienup-Riordan.
William Tyson is remembered for his outreach to Yup’ik-only speaking Elders about ANCSA enrollment and land selections. “Some of them were hesitant to enroll. The Elders related to William very well, and I think because of that, and because they trusted William, they enrolled,” recalled Nelson Angapak, who joined Calista in 1973 as a deputy director in the Land Department.
The late Phillip Guy provided leadership and education on land selections, working closely with villages to make sure they enrolled every eligible Shareholder. This was needed to select the maximum amount of land from the federal government.
When Calista’s five incorporators traveled to Washington, D.C., the DOI officials told them they needed to revise the incorporation papers.
Because they had traveled together, the incorporators—Calista’s first board—were able to work together quickly to revise the paperwork and approve the changes, obligating DOI to approve the amended materials without further delay.
According to Dixon, the Calista board voted “yes” with their eyebrows, while sitting in the DOI offices, to the consternation of the federal officials, who then polled them one by one.
On June 1, 1972, DOI Assistant Secretary Harrison Loesch signed and approved Calista’s articles of incorporation.
One more step was needed after the Washington, D.C. trip: the creation of the legal, for-profit corporation under state law. That happened on June 12, 1972, when the State of Alaska issued Calista’s Certificate of Incorporation.
Only The Beginning
After incorporating, Calista received an initial $500,000 check for its share of ANCSA’s $1 billion financial settlement, using the money to open offices in Anchorage and Bethel. The remaining ANCSA payments were made in installments over a period of years.
In the first Annual Report to Shareholders, published in 1974, President Ray C. Christiansen of Bethel described “many long hours” of work to begin providing ANCSA benefits to Calista Shareholders, realizing that “land was the most important thing to our people.”
“In the beginning the job to be done seemed so difficult that many of us felt we wouldn’t be able to be where we are today.”
Calista President Ray Christiansen, 1974 Annual Report
Calista had to enroll thousands of Shareholders, establish financial practices, and set business goals and objectives. This was on top of other urgent matters, such as helping the 56 new Village Corporations with their enrollment, budgets and land selections.
“I have a lot of memories of those years,” Nick said. “No other law, no other event, throughout the history of Alaska, has had [such an] impact on its indigenous people.”
“Sometimes when I try to put it into words, it’s almost indescribable,” he said.
“For the Shareholders of Calista, I wanted to share this, because even though I am no longer involved in these many meetings … I still think of them almost daily, praying for them, praying that they succeed, that they live easier, that their education opportunities are more available, and their health issues attended to.”
Robert Nick, 2021 Annual Report