As Bristol Bay Native Corp. assembles its annual shareholders meeting this weekend, there are important issues I hope they consider. Most importantly is the sustainability of the Bristol Bay region, its economy and its communities. As challenging as this may seem, it will require leadership that is willing to take a seat at the table and address issues that lead to the problems causing out-migration, unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse and the high cost of living.
Recently, shareholders have seen BBNC invest in ownership of high-end sport fishing lodges and a fuel distribution company in Dillingham and King Salmon to create jobs. While this is certainly welcome in these two communities, it is a far cry from addressing issues across this vast region –issues the robust commercial salmon industries, and the renowned sports fishing industries cannot address on their own.
I'm not advocating BBNC break the bank investing in opportunity in every community in Bristol Bay and provide for the healthy stability needed to sustain the communities of Bristol Bay. Nor do I think a regional Native corporation as large as BBNC could accomplish this on its own and avoid the consequences of bankruptcy. In fact the investment needed is more personal, it will require engagement and commitment to the people of the Iliamna Lake area, an area long ignored by the Dillingham-based power structure of our corporation. This includes open minded review of the Pebble Partnership's plan for a mine site near Iliamna, the infrastructure to support it, and possible benefits for the area.
Over the recent years the BBNC leadership has deeply rooted itself into its opposition of the Pebble project, to the point they have taken a negative aim not only at shareholders who support more of an open-minded approach, but, of more concern, recent censorship and bullying towards one of its own board members. They took this action not because someone changed their opposition to Pebble, but for accepting a seat on an advisory panel to have the option for meaningful engagement and understanding of the project by those who promote it.
As a long, strong supporter of dialog and conversation, this type of behavior is a complete mystery to me. The question I want to pose to our leaders is what do you fear from discussion and conversation? This is how we learn and how we stay informed. To do less than this is, in my opinion, is a severe dereliction of stewardship and leadership.
This is concerning behavior and leaves me wondering: is BBNC's leadership capable of having a discussion about something as important as the sustainability of our communities, people, and our resources? Perhaps it's time to review our corporation's election processes to ensure equal opportunity is afforded to all possible candidates. I personally think we should have greater regional representation on our board so that more perspectives make their way into the board room when decisions are being made. I also think we should consider the concept of reasonable term limits so that we attract a broader range of people to help our corporation.
I have watched our leaders' performance for some time and wanted to raise my concerns in a forum where they could be heard. For too long, issues of concern get raised, heads nod in agreement, notes are furiously taken and then nothing happens. The silence is deafening and I am not alone in expecting more from our leaders. And, while I doubt things will change this weekend, perhaps now a few more will see that storm clouds are brewing on the horizon.
Bristol Bay is my home. I am concerned about our future and I want the help of our leaders in addressing these concerns. My final message is a plea for them to help be a part of the solution or to step out of the way.
Abe Williams was born and raised in Naknek, is a Bristol Bay Native Corp. shareholder and a fourth-generation Bristol Bay fisherman. The corporation's shareholders meeting begins at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center, 600 West Seventh Ave. in downtown Anchorage.
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