Bethel Native Corporation CEO Ana Hoffman has again been elected co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives during the final day of its annual convention on Oct. 19. Hoffman has served as co-chair since 2013, but the board of the Calista Corporation, the regional native corporation for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, cast their vote for another candidate.
At first there was silence from Calista. Then the Association of Village Council Presidents, villages, and their village corporations cast their votes for Hoffman. At the last moment, Calista Board Chairman Robert Beans appeared at the back of the room. Beans walked up to the microphone and said that the corporation board voted for Greg Razo, an executive from the Cook Inlet Regional Corporation, which is the Anchorage-based regional native corporation. The reasons behind that vote are unclear. Beans said that it was because the board wanted a change, but didn't give further details.
Before the vote happened on Saturday, Y-K Delta tribes, regional nonprofits, and corporations met in a closed meeting to discuss who they wanted to vote for. Sources with knowledge of the matter told KYUK that Calista decided to back Razo during that caucus. During the caucus, Calista said they chose Razo because of his support for the Donlin Gold mine located in the middle Kuskokwim River area where Calista owns the mineral rights. Beans denied that Donlin was the issue. Hoffman, as CEO of the Bethel Native Corporation, has not taken a public stance on the mine.
In a statement to KYUK, Calista said that “all actions and decisions are reviewed, considered, and discussed by Calista’s Board of Directors. Reporting to more than 31,000 shareholders, the board makes intentional decisions that are believed to be the most beneficial to all of Calista’s shareholders, even when the decisions may not be the easiest or may not be the most popular.”
This isn’t the first time that Calista has challenged Hoffman. In 2015, when her first term as co-chair was up, a source close to the matter told KYUK that the corporation’s candidate withdrew before the vote came up on the floor because of a lack of support.
Meanwhile, Calista shareholders are pressuring the corporation to hold a shareholder vote on the Donlin mine. Azachorok, a village corporation in Mountain Village, passed a resolution supporting the idea. This comes after female Calista shareholders sent a letter earlier this year urging the corporation to let shareholders decide on whether they want the mine. More than 300 women signed the letter.
Calista did not comment to KYUK on Azachorok’s resolution. But during AFN, an op-ed from Calista President and CEO Andrew Guy appeared in the Fairbanks Daily-News Miner with the headline, “Donlin Gold Project Will Benefit Southwest Alaska.”
Beans said that Calista will discuss a shareholder vote on the mine during its next board meeting in December.