The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was passed in 1971, and compensated Alaska Natives as a group $944 million and title to 44 million acres of land –in exchange for our claims to 340 million acres of traditional lands, including the oil-rich area of Prudhoe Bay. During the development of ANCSA, our leaders were creative and resourceful, like our ancestors had been.
When Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation (UIC) was established, Barrow was still very much a subsistence-oriented community. We knew little about business, let alone running an ANCSA-mandated, multi-million dollar corporation. Whalers became corporate executives overnight and we rose to the challenge.
On March 30, 1973, the people of Barrow gathered to decide how to shape our village corporation. These future shareholders selected “Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation” as its name, to honor the town’s ancestral heritage.
Lloyd Ahvakana, with his military background and strong sense of organization, was elected chairman. Arthur Panigeo was elected president, and brought energy and wisdom we needed to make things happen. Vice President Arnold Brower, Sr. helped design the corporation so it would mesh with our subsistence lifestyle. Beverly Qalu Ahgeak, well-organized and good with numbers, kept the day-to-day operations running as secretary/treasurer.
Other founding board members included Roy Nageak, a smart young man who came from ASRC with new ideas, and Lewis Suvlu, who contributed his budgeting, planning and accounting skills. James Matumeak, Warren Matumeak, and Lester Suvlu also contributed their time and talents.
“It was a crazy time,” recalls Nageak. “It was also exciting.”
UIC was officially incorporated on April 19, 1973. UIC operations formally commenced on July 1st with three employees: Arthur Panigeo, president; Wesley Aiken, land chief; and Lucille Adams. The corporation’s first major venture was the 1974 purchase of Shontz Store, later to become Stuaqpak. UIC landed its first loan and built a new, larger store featuring the town’s first butcher shop and storage for fresh produce.
Then, to take advantage of the Borough’s rising housing market, UIC established its first wholly-owned subsidiary in 1978: UIC Construction. The company thrived, started landing major contracts and gave UIC the strength to expand into other areas.
UIC took advantage of the North Slope development boom in many ways. We anticipated the need for Native-owned insurance services so we created Umialik Insurance Company in 1981. We saw our ship come in –literally after forming Bowhead Transportation Company and entering the barging business in 1982. We envisioned various development opportunities and created UIC Development Company in 1996. We recognized the value of technical expertise and bought LCMF that same year.
In 2000, UIC began to take advantage of the Small Business Administration’s “8(a)” program, which is a business development program created to help small disadvantaged businesses compete in the American economy and access the federal procurement market.
Over the years, as our family of companies grew, so did our commitment to our people. UIC was one of the first Native corporations to adopt a Shareholder Homesite Program. Young married couples had priority for the first distribution in 1982, followed by several other distributions totaling some 2,200 lots.
In 1992, UIC set aside 7,400 acres of private land for scientific research, creating the Barrow Environmental Observatory. Every year, researchers come from a variety of universities to study the Arctic. We believe that by supporting western science we ultimately support the Iñupiat way of life.
Today we are proud to enrich the lives of our people in many ways. With the wisdom, energy, and ideas of everyone who has contributed to UIC over the last 40 years, we have blossomed into a strong, stable, corporation with nearly 2,000 employees, offices in Barrow, Anchorage and across the country, and virtually limitless opportunities for shareholders and their descendants.