Q & A with Shareholder Employees

A Conversation with Carolyn Boskofsky, Payroll Technician II at NANA Development Corporation

This is part of a series of interviews with NANA’s shareholder-employees.

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Carolyn (Ali) Boskofsky is celebrating her 35th anniversary as a NANA employee.               Taikuu,Ali!

 

What is your Iñupiaq name?

Aliġauraq. I was named after my great-grandmother, my aana’s mother.

I’ve been called “Ali” ever since I was little. My teachers called me Ali.

What is your position?

Payroll Technician II.

How many years have you been with NANA?

35 years! Since 1980.

Have you had other jobs at NANA?

I was hired as the receptionist—at our old building on Harding Drive (in an industrial part of Anchorage).

I joined the accounts payable department. First as a clerk, then the assistant supervisor, and the accounts payable supervisor. Back then, we had two computers among us. We logged everything in manually, in batches, and took turns entering data. I also worked in cash control, for the chief financial officer, balancing accounts and reconciling numbers.

I became a “floater”—learning the systems so I could cover staff who went on vacation or took leave.

What are your job challenges?

Meeting intense deadlines. When it comes to payroll, you don’t want to be late. Employees like to be properly paid. There are also tax submissions, to avoid penalties. It’s hard to miss work, take sick days or even holidays. Everything is on a tight schedule.

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Shungnak.

I was raised by my mother and her parents, my aana and taata (grandparents). I also had a lot of aunts and uncles and so on, a big family. My brother and I spent a lot of time with our grandparents.

What did you learn from your aana (grandmother)?

From my aana, I learned how to be patient. I learned to knit and crochet from her.

Watching her, I learned how to scale fish, wash and hang them. I watched her mend nets. My favorite food is still half-dried fish (qalgiq)—whitefish, sheefish or salmon—with uqsruq (seal oil). It reminds me of her.

What was it like for you, growing up?

We had no money. We had just enough for staples: coffee, sugar, tea, flour, rice. For the rest, we lived off the land. We spent summers at our camp above the village of Kobuk, where we fished and picked berries.

Picking berries was an all-day thing. (The only thing on your to-do list.) I still love to pick berries and to go fishing. Even if it’s around Anchorage, it reminds me of being home.

My taata (grandfather) had a dog team which he used to haul wood, and everything else we needed.

We didn’t have money for board games. We didn’t have TV when we were young. We used our imagination when we played. We made up games. Since I watched my aana hang fish on a rack, one of my games was picking out leaves and hanging them up (back on the tree) to dry, pretending they were fish. Another game, which I made up from watching my taata with his dog team, was taking an empty can and feeding my imaginary dog team. We watched older kids leave Shungnak to go to school, so another game was making believe it was our turn to leave. We’d dress up and pretend we were going on an airplane.

Tell us about going to school.

Iñupiaq was my first language. I lived with it every day. There were very few White people around, when I was little.

In school, I had to learn English. My taata tried to give me a crash course. On my birth certificate, my name is Caroline. He taught me how to spell it as Carolyn, which is what’s on my driver’s license now.

I loved being outside, at camp, or just playing. I didn’t like being confined inside the school.

We liked our teachers, a husband and wife team. The wife taught grades 1-8. The husband taught pre-K. He called it “beginners”. He showed us a toy-filled room, which he called a “cubby”. I remember the itty-bitty chairs, a tiny rocking chair, and bricks made of paper.

After finishing 8th grade, when I was 14 or 15, I was sent to Delta Junction, with six other kids from Shungnak. I was able to finish high school in Selawik.

What was your first job?

My very first job was through the Native Youth Corps. I think I was paid $2.50 an hour, before taxes. Reality hit when I started looking at the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs to order clothes. I carefully kept track of the hours I worked and totaled the gross. (Already I was thinking like a payroll technician.)

Shungnak had one phone, at the city office, when I was a teen. There was no phone at the school, or post office, or store—and no one had phones in their homes. I was the telephone operator, which meant I was the runner. When someone got a call, I had to run to let them know. We didn’t have KOTZ (Kotzebue) radio for messages. We didn’t have CB radio. That one phone was it.

One summer, I was also a firefighter. I was 18, only one of two girls at firefighter camp. I was surrounded by my cousins, who were boys.

I also worked at the Shungnak Native Store for two months, when my uncle, who ordinarily ran the store, was out doing other things. It was up to me to keep the store open. I was relieved when he came back.

Where did you study or train?

I went to Sitka to study at Sheldon Jackson College. I did well. I was even on the dean’s list. But in Sitka it rained every day. Even when the sun came out, it still rained. So, I went home to Shungnak.

Then I went to Seward, for clerical training at AVTEC (Alaska’s Institute of Technology). Levi Mills, Jr. helped push me to get the paperwork done. When I passed the Alaska State clerical test, I received 20-30 telegraphs a day, from all over Alaska, inviting me to interview for jobs.

What is your first memory of NANA and of being a NANA shareholder?

I grew up with NANA.

Before NANA was formed (before the Alaska Land Claims Settlement Act was passed), a young Willie Hensley came to Shungnak to talk about what might happen and why.

What are your early memories of being a NANA employee?

When NANA met with ASRC (Arctic Slope Regional Corporation) to talk about the land swap (that would give us the land on which Red Dog Mine is located), I was asked to sit in. “They speak a lot of Iñupiaq. Tell us what they’re saying.” So, I sat quietly, without being noticed, and scribbled down as much English as I could. Their dialect is different, but I got the gist of what ASRC people were saying to each other.

What was it like for you, moving to the city?

I had to learn how to drive. My cousin and I bought a Plymouth Duster together.

Don Argetsinger (then a VP at NANA) drew me maps, showing me how to get from here (NANA) to there (the bank, the post office). He said, “Stop if you get lost. We’ll come rescue you.” Another office worker (from the region) drove all the way to Elmendorf (Air Force Base), before stopping to call. He didn’t want that to happen to me. There were no cell phones then. No GPS.

What has surprised you most about working at NANA?

NANA can do anything!

We started small with just a reindeer operation, Qunŋiq, and building supplies, Tupik. We had a seafood processing plant. Fuel projects. NANA Oilfield Services. NANA Mannings. Purcell Security.

Now, we’re so versatile.

What advice do you have for young shareholders?

Go and get your education. Do that first. So much is out there, everything from food service to finance. So much is open to you. Communications, human resources. There are scholarships and on-the-job training. Get some sort of college degree. Focus on that first.

I did it all backwards. It was hard for me to go back to school.

What might someone be surprised to know about you?

My Iñupiaq words are getting all tangled up. I’ve been gone (from the NANA region) so long. In my head, I can speak it clearly. When I open my mouth, it comes out differently. Still, I can understand my Native language, read and write it.

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Carolyn Boskofsky was interviewed by Carol Richards, Director of Brand Communications for NANA Development Corporation.