Angoon’s Native corporation has a new leader. Debbie Atuk took over as the President and CEO of Kootznoowoo Incorporated in February after a career in corporate finance and business.
Even back when Debbie Atuk was an undergraduate student studying economics at the University of Chicago, she was thinking about Alaska Native corporations.
“I wrote a lot of essays, a lot of scholarship application essays, and I talked about the Native corporations and how I wanted to come back and apply my experience earning a degree in economics,” she said.
Atuk is Iñupiaq and grew up in Nome and Anchorage. She went on to earn an MBA from Dartmouth, and most recently worked for SkyView Investment Advisors in New York City. She also serves as board treasurer for Bering Straits Native Corporation.
“It seemed like a good match for my background in banking and finance and business development, so when this opportunity presented itself, I thought it was a no brainer,” she said.
Atuk replaces interim leader Hal Dreyer. She said she’ll continue working with the corporation’s board on a strategic plan that addresses profitability, job creation for shareholders, and sustainable dividends. She also hopes to create opportunities for shareholders to engage with leadership. One idea is to host presentations over video conferences where shareholders can submit comments.
“I think about these Native corporations as family-owned businesses. It’s like a very, very large extended family. Not that everyone is related, but at some point they are,” Atuk said. “So they have a shared asset, and they feel really strongly about it. And I want to make sure that their concerns are heard and addressed.”
Although Atuk has no specific connection to Angoon, she is a shareholder in both a regional and a village Native corporation and has spent years advocating for their interests.
She first met Kootznoowoo board chair, Melissa Kookesh, while advocating in Congress for village Native corporation projects around energy, alternative energy and infrastructure, including Angoon’s Thayer Creek hydro project which would replace the town’s diesel generators.
“I’m really proud of how well the Alaska Native corporations have done, by and large, by diversifying away from natural resources and increasing their business lines beyond just extractive businesses,” she said. “Although, I’m fine with the corporations making the decisions that they make for their shareholders, as long as the shareholders have a voice in it.”
Kootznoowoo, Inc. is headquartered in Juneau and represents approximately 1100 shareholders. Atuk says she looks forward to meeting them in person once the risk from COVID-19 subsides.
Erin McKinstry is a Report for America corps member.