One of Alaska Native Brotherhood's original founders, Frank Price, is remembered for his charge to delegates: "When you are going to hold up the strongest weapon in your hand, it is a ballot. Cast it!"
Price's words resound in my mind as I consider the questions and objections raised by Sealaska shareholders with regard to the corporation holding its annual meeting out-of-state. Four directors were elected to its board during the June 28 meeting in San Francisco. Conducting this election outside its region disenfranchised thousands of Sealaska shareholders from participating in the very process that was fought and won by our forbearers: to listen, to question, to evaluate, and then cast an informed ballot.
Following the Juneau Empire's front-page story in February covering a shareholder's disappointment of the planned San Francisco meeting, others from Hoonah and elsewhere noted their dissatisfaction on the Empire's blog. A shareholder asked me, "Why is Sealaska running away from us?"
What a poignant question since in May, Sealaska Corp., a regional corporation, held shareholder information meetings in Wrangell, Saxman, Ketchikan, Portland, Seattle and Anchorage, but excluded Juneau and other Southeast villages. Had Sealaska held information meetings in these left-out communities, shareholders would have had the opportunity to be better informed about Sealaska's business. Moreover, shareholders could have heard from the directors whose terms expire, as well as from other independent candidates.
While the corporation offered shareholders a link to log in to a Web cast of this meeting, this was not an option for most elders and families who do not own a home computer.
There may be another route. To fulfill its responsibility to communicate with its shareholders, Sealaska should make its annual meeting Web casts meaningful. With its sophisticated technology, resources and expertise, Sealaska can connect a live and interactive feed into Juneau's Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall.
This would make it possible for Juneau and other shareholders from Southeast villages to gather, to ask questions of the Sealaska board and executive management, and to vote on the floor (instead of by proxy). Sealaska can designate the ANB Hall an official election site by assigning a proxy holder and an election inspector to remain in Juneau with its shareholders.
Is Sealaska running away from us? The future of Sealaska Corporation pivots on the answer to this question. It's time to change the way Sealaska does business.