Q & A with Shareholder Employees
Anchorage, AK December 1, 2016
A Conversation with Paul Anderson, Manager of Nuna-Geo, NANA Regional Corporation
This is part of a series of interviews with NANA’s shareholder-employees.
Paul Anderson, a shareholder with family ties to Kotzebue, is the manager of Nuna-Geo Information, Lands & Regional Affairs for NANA Regional Corporation. Photo by Kally Greene-Gudmundson.
What is your Iñupiaq name?
Napaqtuq. My grandmother (Bessie Barr Cross) named me. It means “spruce tree,” which is kind of funny because my family is coastal (Iñupiat), where there are no trees.
Where are you from?
My mom (Sue) is from Kotzebue, where my parents met when they both worked for Wien Air Alaska. My dad (Alan) was a pilot. Until I was about 10, I spent time in Kotzebue with my grandparents, John and Bessie Cross.
My aana (grandmother), was originally from Shishmaref (a village on an island near Nome) and Deering (a village directly south of Kotzebue, on the coast). We spent time at Cape Espenberg (an early Iñupiat settlement with a lot of beach ridges). I remember collecting tern eggs and getting dive-bombed.
My grandfather (John Cross) was a pilot and a businessman. He was acting station manager at the airport and started the Kotzebue Civil Air Patrol (with Warren Thompson).
Mostly, I grew up in Anchorage. For a couple of years, we lived in Skwentna. Actually, we lived about 25 miles outside Skwentna (already a remote outpost); our nearest neighbor lived across the lake, about three miles away. I was homeschooled, 4th through 6th grade.
My family also lived in Washington state and in Colorado. When I turned 18, I packed up my car and moved back to Alaska. The rest of my family eventually followed me back.
What was your first job?
I was a paperboy in Anchorage. Then I sold newspaper subscriptions, door-to-door, for the Anchorage Times.
When I came back to Alaska, I was a cook at a lodge in Bettles and in Circle Hot Springs.
What is your first memory of NANA?
When I was about four years old, I visited my uncle (Dallas Cross) at Anchorage’s old NANA offices (on Harding Drive). I remember chasing my little brothers around.
When we grew up, three of my brothers and I worked on the North Slope for NANA subsidiaries. We used to meet at the PBOC (Prudhoe Bay operations center) for ping pong or meals.
I worked in the BP kitchen for NANA/Marriott (before it became NMS).
Where did you study or train?
In high school, I took culinary arts classes. When I worked on the Slope, I was offered further training, but I began to realize that I hated cooking. I didn’t want to grow old in the kitchen.
What did you like about working on the Slope?
The (rotational work) schedule allowed me to travel. I visited Southeast Asia: Thailand and China. I traveled to the Middle East. In Lebanon, I first got interested in geography when I met a French geographer. I explored Baalbek (an ancient city with Roman temples).
I got hooked on history and geography.
So you went back to school?
I studied history at UAA (the University of Alaska Anchorage), then transferred to Humboldt State (in Arcata, California).
I loved libraries, but I loved being out in the field more. There’s almost zero field work when you study history. So, I majored in geography, with a minor in history. At Humboldt, they say learning isn’t limited to sitting in a classroom. A student field trip brought me to Tibet to document their geography.
Who has inspired you?
I had great professors (at Humboldt), especially Joy Adams (geography) and Benjamin Marschke (history). They dug deep and were so excited about their fields, so you couldn’t help but be excited, too. For example, Dr. Marschke found some 16th century German church records. Church records? Exciting? He said they were a window into how people lived.
What is your job?
My title is Nuna-Geo system manager for NANA Regional Corporation. I work in NANA’s land department, collecting and managing geographic and land parcel data.
What is Nuna-Geo?
Nuna means land in Iñupiaq. Geo is short for geography, the study of spatial characteristics of the earth. So, Nuna-Geo is like saying “land land,” just as ATM machine is “machine machine.”
Nuna-Geo is NANA’s name for our GIS, which stands for a geographic information system. Since GIS is also the name of one of NANA’s companies (Grand Isle Shipyard), we needed to call it something else.
What is GIS, as it pertains to geography?
GIS is a system to capture, analyze and present spatial data. It helps us understand what’s happening in geographic space. Cadastral fabric is a continuous surface of connected parcels of land. It’s a base map.
In the old days, they did this by layering clear plastic sheets. Now, we use computers and software programs to visualize the data in 3-D. The technology is still developing. We can organize and store the data more accurately. We can update, edit and replace information—like who owns which land parcels and when ownership (or topography) changed.
What are your main job responsibilities?
I collect and analyze geographic data. I study elevations and topography. I use this data to create maps of the NANA region. The maps provide information on land ownership. Viewsheds show how the natural environment looks from different viewpoints. So, another use might be to determine the least energetic path for roads.
One of my goals is to organize and simplify 40 years of records, to convert piles of paper and data stored on old computers into an up-do-date content management system. It’s going to take a while.
Where did you work before coming to NANA?
After college, I worked as an environmental scientist for Sivuniq, a NANA subsidiary. I analyzed environmental contaminants, and planned remediation and restoration of the land. It was a job I would have done for free, to learn from Brad Chastain, Sivuniq’s former president. He was a good mentor—and he paid me. Sivuniq was gobbled up by WHPacific. Then, I learned NANA was looking for a GIS person (with geospatial expertise) in the lands department.
What does NANA’s lands department do?
Protecting lands and maintaining subsistence rights is a priority. We also carry out leases, easements and permits. Under ANCSA Section 14(c), we negotiate land conveyances between NANA and municipal governments (to build and maintain infrastructure). We can also issue campsite permits to shareholders on NANA lands.
We’ll answer shareholders’ questions and, if we don’t know the answer, we can point you to someone who does. We can be reached at email@example.com. Most questions are about who owns what. Sometimes shareholders ask whether NANA can buy Native allotments. We have in the past, but it must make economic sense for the corporation, and work within our fixed budget.
What do you like best about your job?
It brought me back to the NANA region. I hadn’t been to Kotzebue in 20 years.
What has surprised you most about working at NANA?
The integration of culture and human connections is inevitable. In the region people ask, who’s your mom? When I first started, Marie Greene said, “I knew your dad. We used to work together. You look just like him.” (Marie Greene, a former NANA president, retired in 2015.)
What advice to you have for young shareholders?
Education is vitally important. A good education can spark something inside, a curiosity. I want kids to be excited about something and make the most of it.
Keep learning. After I got some on-the-job experience, I earned a graduate certificate from USC (the University of Southern California) in spatial data analysis and visualization.
What important lessons have you learned?
Be open to opportunities. Things are always changing.
Where do you hope to be in five years?
I’d like to still be at NANA, but maybe I’ll be on vacation someplace warm and tropical, especially since winter’s coming.
What’s your next vacation destination?
Maybe South America, so I can practice my “kitchen Spanish” (the Spanish learned by working in kitchens). Or someplace very different, like Africa.
What is your vision of NANA in 10 or 20 years?
I see some challenges. We have all the makings of a great future, with a little luck and a lot of work.
Paul Anderson was interviewed by Carol Richards, Director of Brand Communications for NANA Development Corporation.