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FAIRBANKS - About a decade ago, the board of directors of the Tyonek Native Corp. were dismayed to see that young people weren't getting involved in tribal government.
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Michaelene Stephan, the president of the board, said the worry was that the young people wouldn't have the knowledge to someday serve on the board of directors and handle the day-to-day operations of the multimillion-dollar Native corporation.
In an effort to grow their own leaders, the Native corporation in 1996 began an initiative to train youth to one day become leaders and board members themselves. Stephan and other board members, including some of the youth involved in the training program, presented their program to the delegates at the Alaska Federation of Natives' Elders and Youth Conference at the Carlson Center on Tuesday morning and urged other Native corporations across the state to adopt similar programs.
Tyonek became flush with cash in the early 1960s when oil companies paid the residents in the small Cook Inlet village $12 million to drill oil on their lands. Since then, the Native corporation has invested heavily in the region and in business ventures across the country.
"Tyonek has a long history of leadership in the Cook Inlet," Stephan said, noting she doesn't want to see that history end because the youth don't know how to lead.
Through Tyonek's program, three young people (between the ages of 18 and 30) become young adult advisory members of the corporation's board of directors. During three-year terms, the youths take part in board meetings and learn about issues facing the corporation.
They also learn the inner workings of the corporation's business holdings and visit subsidiaries and work sites in the Lower 48, where the corporation is heavily involved in defense contracts, manufacturing, information technology and aircraft maintenance.
"We want to be more involved with the corporation and learn more about tribal government," said Steven Holley, 20, the vice chairman of the Young Adult Advisory Members. "These events help motivate and inspire us as we learn more about the Native business world."
Holley said being involved in the program has opened his eyes to the opportunities available to him through his membership in the Tyonek Native Corp., such as government contracts, internships and investment opportunities.
"It helps us take advantage of being Alaska Natives," he said.