Q&A with Shauna Hegna
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
Girdwood resident Shauna Hegna was recently appointed Koniag, Inc. President. The Native corporation has offices in Kodiak and Anchorage to offer services to its shareholders. Hegna’s husband Josh is the Librarian at Girdwood K-8 School, where their son Kai and daughter Paxson attend, and is co-owner of Girdwood Brewing Company. The Gazette wished to interview Hegna sooner, but she was on a month-long, five-country, European leadership fellowship.
The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Gazette: How did the position of Koniag, Inc. President come about?
Hegna: We had a long time President and CEO Liz Perry who needed to relocate for family reasons. After we recovered from the shock and sadness of losing her, our board decided to split out the President and CEO positions. Ron Unger took over the CEO position, and I was promoted to President.”
Gazette: What are Native corporations and what do they do?
Hegna: Native corporations were created in 1971 through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Through the act, Alaska Natives received shares in Native corporations as a way to settle Native land claims in Alaska. Native corporations own land in their regions on behalf of their shareholders. They use profits from businesses they operate to pay dividends and provide other benefits to their shareholders. For Koniag, we have 3,800 shareholders who live in the Kodiak region, Anchorage area and the lower 48.
Gazette: What are some of your responsibilities as President of Koniag?
Hegna: At Koniag, I have the opportunity support Alaska’s day-to-day operations. That includes our Kodiak office and our Anchorage office. Based out of these offices, we have shareholder services, lands management, HR, IT, finance and communications. We have two subsidiary operations based in our home region of Kodiak as well. We have a rock quarry that fells large armor rock which is primarily used for marine projects like breakwaters. We also have our Kodiak Brown Bear Center, where clients are able to view Kodiak brown bears, which is the largest brown bear in the world. It’s a pretty amazing experience to go out there.
Gazette: What is the importance of Native corporations in the regions they serve?
Hegna: Koniag and other regional corporations are important because they provide economic development opportunities in their region. They provide jobs. They provide educational programs and support. And for those shareholders or Alaska Natives who don’t live in Alaska anymore, Native corporations help shareholders to remain connected to their community and Native heritage.
Native corporations provide myriad opportunities, benefits and support. Every Corporation is different. The board of directors identifies what programs and supports they want to provide to shareholders.
Gazette: How do Native corporations advance Alaska Native culture and heritage into the 21st century?
Hegna: Native corporations do that in myriad ways. One of the ways Koniag advances our Alutiiq culture is to support local non-profits that focus on cultural programs. Koniag is a founding member of the Alutiiq Museum – the cultural center for the Kodiak Alutiiq people. This year we’ve also partnered with the Alutiiq Museum and a museum in France to secure the exchange of a full Alutiiq headdress, dancing cuffs and a dancing belt to come back to our region for a visiting exhibit.
These are amazing cultural resources – only a handful of them exist in the entire world. Largely these cultural resources are in European and Russian museums. For Koniag to be able to leverage our partnership and our presence to help bring these resources back to our people is amazing.
We’re also a supporter of myriad tribes and non-profits that focus their efforts on culture and language.
A tribe we have provided support to for many years is the Native village of Afognak, which runs a culture camp during the summer months on Afognak Island. My kids love it there! They travel all the way from Girdwood to participate and learn subsistence by working with elders.
Gazette: What do you enjoy about your job?
Hegna: My favorite thing about working for Koniag is making a positive difference in the lives of our shareholders every day. Whether that’s awarding a scholarship to a kindergartner who is playing t-ball for the first time or that’s funding a Ph.D. program for a college student, or that’s being able to pay a dividend, these are all meaningful benefits for our shareholders. That’s what I love. I love being able to give back to my community and to serve my people.
Gazette: What are some of the challenges of your job?
Hegna: One of them is that I’m new. We have a great team here, but I am learning. There are a number of talented and wise CEOs of other Native corporations that have worked in their roles for many years. I look forward to learning from them.
The other challenge is how do we continue to increase the benefits and services we offer to our shareholders to ensure that we are providing not only for this generation but the next generation and the generation after that. That’s a challenge every Native corporation faces. I’m excited to work with our team to develop our strategy.
Gazette: It sounds like part of the job’s responsibility is a lot of travel.
Hegna: I get an opportunity to travel quite a bit. I spend most of my time on Kodiak because that’s where our headquarters is based, and that’s where our shareholders are. I also have a chance to travel to the lower 48.
Gazette: You were recently in Brussels.
Hegna: What an amazing experience! Before the transition into my position here, I was nominated to participate in the German Marshall Memorial Fellowship, which is a trans-Atlantic leadership development program. There are about 700 people who apply each year, and this year they selected 14 Americans from all over the U.S.
I was the only person in my cohort from Alaska. It was wonderful to share with fellow Americans about what makes Alaska such a beautiful and inspiring place to live.
During the fellowship, you do six months of pre-fellowship work where you study trans-Atlantic issues. They send you to five countries over a month, and while you’re in those countries, you have a chance to meet with everybody from ambassadors to touring orphanages and learning about political, social and economic challenges and opportunities.
I had a chance to go to Brussels, Belgium; Paris, France; Bilbao, Spain; Sophia, Bulgaria; and Cologne, Germany.”
Gazette: What was that experience like educationally for you?
Hegna: It was a transformational experience. I have a much better understanding of the European Union and why it’s such a strategic political partnership and defense partnership for America. I have a much better understanding of the various countries I visited in Europe, their cultural significance, their social significance, and the political issues they face.
Gazette: Is there anything else you would like to tell me about Koniag or your responsibilities?
Hegna: I feel incredibly blessed to have an opportunity to serve my people and to work for Koniag. Koniag is an amazing company with strong corporate ethics and cultural values. To me, to have an opportunity to work for a place that has such a meaningful impact on our people is a blessing.