Karen Linnell, Increasing transparency and equality for all

Published January 2019

Karen Linnell

1. Describe your family.

I am the daughter of Lemmie and Edna Charley. I come from Tsiis tl’edze’na’ (Chistochina) and Keex (Kake), a member of Naltsiine on my Ahtna side and Was’ineidí on my Tlingit side. I am married to Bill Linnell, a Yupik man whose family comes from Kalskag. We have two daughters, Marissa and Ashley, and five step-children, Dawn, Brik, Cynthia, Ruth and Roy, and 11 grandchildren.

2. What are some defining/influential moments in your life?

When I was a receptionist/secretary for Ahtna, Inc. in my early 20s, there was an issue. I don’t remember what it was, but Roy S. Ewan asked me what I thought about it and how I would handle it. It got me thinking outside of my current position and paying attention to what’s going on around me. That my opinion mattered and that I needed to think like a leader. He was great at drawing people in and getting them involved. I appreciate that.

3. Is there anyone in particular in your life who has inspired you?

My mother. She taught me that you can’t change things from the outside, you have to get involved. She also taught me that there are two sides to every story, so ask questions. My dad taught me that everyone has value, no matter where they come from, and deserve to be treated with respect.

4. What are you most passionate about in your life?

My passion is for my family and my people. That’s why I am working to secure our hunting and fishing rights for generations to come. It’s much more than putting food on the table, it is part of who we are. We shouldn’t have to fight for that last moose, caribou or salmon. We need to work to ensure these resources have healthy populations and are here for our grandchildren’s grandchildren. We need to quit managing for a single species or piece of land but start looking at the whole picture.

5. What hobbies or activities do you enjoy?

I’ve recently taken up sewing. My daughters have taught me to make shirts without a pattern. We worked together to design an “Ahtna” or Athabascan-style shirt to use on Kuskpuk Fridays. I try to meet with friends and family one day a week to visit and sew. I especially like the visiting.

6. What are your hopes for the future of Ahtna?

We are still in recovery from our near bankruptcy. I would like to see Ahtna rebuild our portfolio, to see it exceed the levels of the late 1990s – at that time, we had a portfolio of over $33 million. We now have a strong business, but we need to rebuild our portfolio outside of the Ahtna Hwt-anene (People’s) Trust to be fully recovered from our near bankruptcy. I would like to see us not only educate our shareholders, but welcome them into our company and have them run it at all levels.

7. What is the board’s vision for Ahtna, Inc.?

Our culture unites us, our land sustains us, our people are prosperous. By working together, we can do what is best for all shareholders.

8. What made you want to join the board in 2004?

I was asked by Cheesh’na shareholders to represent them and I was full of energy and thought I could make a difference. I hope that I am still making a difference.

9. What excites you the most about the board’s work?

Looking to the future. After being on the board for a while, it sometimes feels like we haven’t made progress, then we look back and see all the changes and hard work that has been done to get to where we are. Sometimes, it feels like slow progress, but it is progress.

10. What are some key things you wanted to change/implement when you joined the board?

Transparency. Adherence to policy. Equal treatment for our villages and shareholders.

11. What is one or a few things you would love for all shareholders to know about the board?

I would like our shareholders to know that the Board of Directors works hard for them. We don’t always get along or agree on everything. Often we agree to disagree but it should always come back to what is best for ALL shareholders.

12. What message would you like to share with the youth of today?

Pay attention, get involved, make informed decisions. What you do today affects your future. If you want to see changes, you can’t just complain about it, you have to get involved and start to make changes from within.

13. Can you tell me more about your work history and community involvement?

I have been involved with our communities since I was a teenager as an AFN youth delegate and helping to organize dog races. As an adult, I have been a Gulkana Council Member, Copper River Native Association board member and vice president, and Cheesh’na council president. I sat on Ahtna’s Land Committee and C&T Committees and serve on the Cheesh’na SVO. I was secretary and vice chair of the Copper Basin Advisory Committee (2008-16), was appointed by the Secretary of Interior to serve on the Wrangell-St. Elias Subsistence Resource Commission (2011-17) and an Alaska Board of Game member (2016-present).

14. Anything else you would like to share?

As I sit here on election day, it makes me think of the adage: The world is run by those who show up. So shareholders, it’s up to you to show up.