This editorial appeared in The Anchorage Daily News:
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Sen. Lisa Murkowski's bill to allow Native corporations to issue new shares of stock to Alaska Natives born after the land claims settlement act in 1971 is right for the corporations and for Natives who weren't here to qualify for those first shares.
The bill mandates nothing. It does make it easier, however, to open the rolls to new shareholders by requiring only a majority of shares present at a stockholders' meeting, not a majority of all outstanding shares. While easier, the decision to issue new stock is still up to each corporation and still requires a majority vote.
Regional corporations Doyon Ltd. and Sealaska Corp. have been the driving forces for the legislation. They particularly want to open their rolls to young Native people who otherwise wouldn't qualify unless they inherited shares. The idea is to give young Alaska Natives a stake so that they'll take an interest in their corporations and to groom the next generation of corporation leaders.
Without owning shares, younger Natives can't participate in corporate decisions.
The downside is simple - more shares means less value for each share. Self-interest is an argument to keep the door closed. At the same time, a sense of obligation to the future argues to open the rolls.
That's a choice the corporations must make - and they'll be freer to make it once President Bush, as is expected, signs the bill passed by Congress.
If the corporations are to continue to serve Alaska Natives beyond the generation that won the land claims settlement in 1971, they'll need more members of succeeding generations in the fold sooner rather than later.