Q & A with Shareholder Employees

A Conversation with Clarence Snyder, Logistics & Building Supervisor, NANA Development Corporation

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

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Clarence Snyder, a shareholder originally from Noorvik, has been employed by NANA since 1986. Photo by Kally Greene-Gudmundson.

 

What is your Iñupiaq name?

Aaġayuk. I was named after Clarence Jackson from Noorvik. I was told it means “looks up.”

Where are you from?

I was born at fish camp, across the river from Noorvik. (Noorvik is on the Kobuk River.) When I was 12, I left Noorvik. My mom got married and we relocated to Bethel. When I was 15, we moved to Anchorage. I attended East High School and graduated in 1985.

What was it like for you, growing up in Noorvik?

I was raised by my grandparents, Cora and Jack Pungalik. We didn’t have much money. It was mostly a subsistence lifestyle. We were raised to eat what we had: dried fish, white fish, any kind of fish. I got tired of fish. Now, I love to fish (fly fish), but I don’t like to eat it. Living in the city, we’re privileged.

My grandparents didn’t speak much English, mostly Iñupiaq. So, Iñupiaq was my first language (the Kobuk/Selawik dialect). I still speak it every day—at work (even with non-speakers, introducing words to them) and at home. My wife and I even speak Iñupiaq to our dogs.

Our language is slowly dying. My wife said she had to learn it to understand me. She translates for me, helping me find the right English word.

Who has inspired you?

Angela, my wife. She’s my inspiration and my biggest supporter. Without her, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Having her next to me for all these years makes me feel very fortunate. Thirty-two years is a long time! She’s thankful for what we have together, and it shows.

I met Angela in 1984. She’s Choctaw-Navajo. Her mom is Choctaw from Oklahoma and her dad is Navajo from New Mexico. Angela came to Anchorage from Oklahoma. She moved in with her uncle and aunt, to finish high school (at Dimond) and babysit her cousins. When we met (at Native Youth Olympics), I thought she was Eskimo—and, with my long hair (back then), she thought I was Indian.

Did you participate in the Native Youth Olympics?

Yes, I did the toe kick. (The toe kick is a game that tests agility. It’s sort of like the long jump. The athlete jumps, taps a wooden dowel with his toes, and lands beyond it—without falling. The game simulates jumping across moving ice during break up.)

Do you have any hobbies?

I love to fly fish. I learned from John Rense (the former senior vice president of the commercial business sector at NANA Development Corporation).  He was a very, very good teacher. While we fished, I listened to him (and others) talk about the business side of NANA.

Does (your wife) Angela fly fish?

She caught the biggest rainbow (trout) on her fly rod (at Montana Creek). It was bigger than any trout that I’ve ever caught. She’s pretty phenomenal.

What is your first memory of NANA?

I didn’t know I was a shareholder. I remember some people wanted Noorvik to be a reservation, but Robert Newlin said no. (Robert Newlin, from Noorvik, was NANA’s first chairman of the board.)

When did you start working at NANA?

In 1986, I was hired by Hilda Haas (a long-time NANA employee). I started as a janitor in our old building on Harding Drive.

What other jobs have you held at NANA?

After about 15 or 16 years as a janitor, I was hired as a security guard for Purcell (now a division of NMS). After that, I worked in purchasing, expediting, and logistics—which is essentially what I do for NANA now. 

What has surprised you most about working at NANA?

All the people I’ve seen come and go, with all the different points of view. Over the years, I’ve had so many different supervisors with different ideas and ways of doing things.

Thirty years ago, NANA wasn’t very big. Now, we’re so large. It’s so diverse now. We have so many companies. When I first started, we were just in Alaska. We owned a reindeer herd. We had a jade operation (with deposits from a mountain near Ambler). We had some businesses on the (North) Slope.

What was it like back then?

I used to walk to work (about five miles each way) from my old apartment at Tudor and Boniface. To visit Angela, I took a bus. I didn’t learn how to drive until 1991—now, driving is a big part of my job.

Everything used to be a paper chase. Piles of purchase requisitions. We didn’t have an IT department; nothing was computerized. Eventually I had a pager, then a cell phone, which was only a phone. Now, my phone is a computer. Computers make everything easier and quicker. Now, I can’t live without email.

What advice to you have for young shareholders?

Find a job. Work hard. It’s a privilege to work for NANA. It’s not a right. Don’t rely only on NANA.

Observe. To learn, watch how people do their work. Ask questions. Learn as much as you can. I’m self-sufficient, but if I can’t find an answer, I’ll ask. There is no such thing as a stupid question. Find ways to get the work done.

Communicate. Learn how to prioritize your work. Be reliable. Try to find the best way to save time and money. Be efficient.

How do you view your job?

I look at our staff as my clients. I provide good customer service, so they can do their jobs. I’m here to help our employees work hard to make NANA successful.

What is your vision for NANA?

I’d like to see more shareholders train to be in higher positions.

What do you want people to know about NANA?

NANA has had its challenges. The only way to succeed is to work together, as one. The economy will turn itself back around, like it did back in 2002. It will continue to grow.

Really, I didn’t expect to be here this long. We accept and we adapt. We learn from our mistakes. That’s how I look at it.

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Clarence Snyder was interviewed by Carol Richards, Director of Brand Communications for NANA Development Corporation.