- Associated Press - Friday, May 11, 2018

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Sealaska has decided to help its shareholders with burial and cremation costs.

The Southeast regional Native corporation’s board voted Monday to offer bereavement benefits of up to $1,000, CoastAlaska News reported .

Survivors will receive $1,000 when an original shareholder dies. That covers those enrolled in the corporation since it formed in the early 1970s.

Descendants of original shareholders, and those who inherited or were given stock, will receive up to that amount. The corporation said payments will be based on the number of voting shares at the time of the shareholder’s death.

“This is one that’s been out there for a long time and we haven’t been able to get there,” Sealaska Board of Directors Chairman Joe Nelson said. “But this year, because of our financial performance and our anticipated continued solid performance, that I think everybody in the company’s just excited that we’re able to move on this one this year.”

Nelson said the corporation’s increased earnings allow it to offer the benefit. Sealaska’s 2017 annual report showed it earned $43 million in profit last year - tripling its 2016 earnings.

“It’s a function of being in a healthy financial position and then having the specific carbon project where we want to associate that carbon program to a benefit that all shareholders will feel for generations to come,” he said.

The project allows Sealaska to sell carbon offset credits through a program based in California. The corporation keeps some of its forests intact in exchange for payments from polluters.

“I think this is fantastic news for shareholders,” said Nicole Hallingstad, a former Sealaska corporate secretary who’s running for the board as an independent candidate.

“The most important thing about this announcement is that it just proves that when shareholders are united and are persistent in their voice in raising an issue, that we can actually accomplish the change that we’re asking for,” she said.

Nelson said a recent survey showed the benefit among shareholders’ top priorities.

“Whenever we go out in the communities, just in our regular shareholder engagement, it is a regular theme - that a lot of folks could use help with burial assistance. And it’s also part of our cultural values, especially in Southeast, where we come together and support each other during times when someone passes,” Nelson said.

Some other regional Native corporations already provide a similar benefit.

Nelson said the mechanics of payments are being worked out. Applications will be available sometime in June.

Sealaska estimates about 300 shareholders die every year.

The corporation has between 22,000 and 23,000 shareholders.

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