Q & A with Shareholder Employees
Anchorage, AK January 25, 2017
A Conversation with Ahpa Yiayuk Porter, Manager of Natural Resources, NANA Regional Corporation
This is part of a series of interviews with NANA’s shareholder-employees.
Ahpa Yiayuk Porter, a shareholder with family ties in Kotzebue, is the manager of natural resources for NANA Regional Corporation.
What is your Iñupiaq name?
In the region, when I meet someone for the first time, they think Ahpa is my Iñupiaq name. They’ll ask, “What’s your English name?” My Iñupiaq name is Yiayuk.
My aana (grandmother), Lila Gallahorn Brantley from Kotzebue, named me Ahpa. (Aapa is the Iñupiaq word for dad.)
Where is your family from?
I was born in Yakutat, where my father is from. I lived there until I was 18. After my senior year in high school, my family moved up to Kotzebue to be near my mother’s side of the family. We joke that we’re related to 42 percent of Kotzebue, which is not far from the truth. We have a big extended family.
I went off to college in Utah and Seattle. During and after college, I spent a few years in Kotzebue. Since then, I’ve lived in Anchorage.
What do people ask you about Yakutat?
It’s Tlingit country, right? (Yes, the name is Tlingit. Yaakwdáat means the place where canoes rest. How’s the fishing? We have every kind of fish, from steelhead trout to sockeye salmon. (Fishing is Yakutat’s biggest industry.) Is there really surfing there? (Yes. Long waves make it a self-proclaimed surf mecca, referred to locally as “The Far North Shore.”)
What was your first job?
In elementary and middle school (in Yakutat), I went door-to-door selling greeting cards. I got paid in points that I traded in for a Nintendo. My first paying job was digging ditches for the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe to improve salmon streams.
What is your first memory of NANA?
I was outside playing basketball (in Yakutat) when my mom stopped me to say,” I’m going to enroll you in NANA.”
She mentioned that Red Dog was going to be successful one day. “Not yet, but it will be,” was what I distinctly remember her saying. Back then, zinc prices were low.
What is your job?
As the manager of natural resources, my focus is on the operation of Red Dog Mine. Essentially, I provide oversight over various aspects of the mine’s operations. The general idea is to try to maximize value from any aspect of the mine’s operation. We revisit our agreements with Teck (the mine’s operator) to evaluate and ensure opportunities.
My job never gets old. There are a lot of moving parts: from the complexity of the mine’s operation to the marketing of the metals once they leave the mine. We monitor the contract sales of lead and zinc to Red Dog customers, specifically Trail, the smelter owned by Teck. (A smelter is a factory where ore is processed.)
Where did you study or train?
I went to Utah Valley State College and Shoreline Community College before figuring out what I really wanted to learn. I earned an online business degree with a concentration on finance through the University of Phoenix.
Tell us a little more about mining, and zinc, in particular.
Red Dog Mine serves such a vital role in the region, and to the financial function of our corporation.
Zinc also plays a vital role. Its primary use is to galvanize steel made from iron ore, improving the product life. Zinc is also an essential trace element for sustaining human life. And zinc is used in farming, as a nutrient for optimal growth.
The importance of metals, dates back to Biblical times. The Old Testament references gold, silver, brass, and iron.
What do you like best about your job?
That’s easy. I get to work with an operation (Red Dog Mine) that has and continues to improve the lives of many. Every member of my wife’s immediate family has worked at Red Dog. That’s two generations.
I hope my work has a positive, long-term impact for shareholders. That thought brings me deep satisfaction.
What has surprised you most about working at NANA?
Two positive things: our very welcoming family environment and our Iñupiat Iļitqusiat values—specifically spirituality and belief in God. Prayers are offered before staff and board meetings.
What’s the best thing that has happened since you started working at NANA?
Connecting back to the region, to our family, to the land and our culture. And the sharing and love that one gets from being a part of it all.
Speaking of family, your wife was Miss Alaska, wasn’t she?
Yes! Peggy (formerly Willman) was a former Miss Alaska. And my mom was “Matanuska Maid.” Literally, she was the woman on the milk carton.
What lessons have you learned?
Patience and prudence. To every job, there’s the technical side and the people side. Minding both at the same time is imperative.
An important skill is being able to communicate complex issues in ways that are easy to understand. I’m still learning.
What advice do you have for young shareholders?
Search for a job that means something to you. When you find it, the word “work” takes on a new meaning.
Who has inspired you?
Miss Johnson, my ninth-grade teacher. One day, she invited me and my father to talk with her about my attitude, my lack of discipline at the time. That reproof was a turning point for me. She caught me at a pivotal point in my education, and I’ll always be grateful.
Who has inspired you at NANA?
Lance Miller, my supervisor, has been a good mentor and role model. (Lance is the vice president of natural resources and a member of NANA’s senior leadership team.) He’s always looking for ways to increase value for our shareholders. He goes above and beyond his duties to promote our region, share his knowledge, and make a positive impact.
What is the best news you’ve heard lately?
The recently reported (higher) zinc prices are nice.
What is your vision of NANA in 10 or 20 years?
That NANA will provide sizable benefits to our shareholders. And that natural resources will continue to play a vital role in the economic impact of our communities.
Our tradition of caring for one another—and others—will transcend generations. Despite our rapidly-changing world, that will continue.
Ahpa Porter was interviewed by Carol Richards, Director of Brand Communications for NANA Development Corporation.
For more information: http://www.nana-dev.com