Alaska Native job site firm advertises openings

By Victoria Barber
Anchorage, Alaska (AP) 11-09

From a small tourism office in downtown, you can tell a lot about unemployment in Anchorage.

“People when they come here are usually stressed, depressed ... sometimes you’ll ask one question and a woman will sit down and burst into tears,” said Essie Rastopsoff, who works at Alaska’s Finest Tours and Cruises at Fifth and Gambell.

The down-and-out often stop by Rastopsoff’s office because her boss, Ben Goenett, also runs a company that gives welfare recipients federally subsidized cell phones for a dollar a month. It’s just down the street from a job placement center and a downtown soup kitchen, so Goenett and his staff see a lot of people who are looking for work, many of them Alaska Native.

“I find myself being a counselor as well as hooking up a phone for people because you have to have a phone for an employer to contact you,” said Goenett, who is Tlingit. “These Natives keep coming in here, they don’t know where to go (to find jobs), the word’s not out there.”

“I thought, ‘OK something needs to be done.’ “

What Goenett did was launch a new Web site called the Alaska Native Job Bank. Similar to job sites like or, the site lets employers post jobs and jobseekers browse listings and publish their resumes. What makes different is that it focuses only on companies that prioritize Alaska Native hire – regional corporations, village corporations and other tribal groups, as well as their subsidiaries.

Various corporations and tribes have had job sites before, but Goenett said that this is the first site to put all the Native jobs in one place.

“Corporations were mostly focused on their own shareholders and regions. I think that if we work together and coordinate – it doesn’t matter what Native you hire as long as they’re qualified,” Goenett said. “In the past you had to be a detective to find jobs, to figure out whether NANA was hiring, or Doyon or the Arctic Slope.”

Now all that information can be captured in one place. Since the site launched in September, employers have posted over a thousand job listings and “that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Goenett said. “We’re such a new site, not everyone knows we’re here yet.”

Goenett said that works better for employers because it allows them to browse by shareholder group, and allows jobseekers to state what their tribal affiliation is on their employee profile. That helps corporations prioritize shareholder or Alaska Native hire.

But the site isn’t only for Natives. Often employers can’t find a qualified shareholder or Alaska Native applicant and need to hire a non-Alaska Native candidate, and the site encourages non-Natives to apply.

“We welcome non-Natives,” Goenett said. “We encourage non-Natives to apply because we need them.”

Goenett said that the rapid expansion of the Web site, with more than 15,000 visitors from Alaska and across the United States, makes an important statement about the progress of Alaska Native corporations. In the 37 years since the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was passed, a generation of Alaska Native shareholders has grown into maturity in the corporate world and helped invest in the education of the young. As corporations have grown and created more subsidiaries, a variety of Native jobs have opened up across the nation and the globe.

“I don’t think people know how far-reaching we are, and how far we’ve come as a Native people,” Goenett said.

Many of those jobs were created through the federal government’s tribal 8(a) contracting program, which awards Alaska Native corporations large no-bid contracts.

The site will also gather links to job-training and education programs run by different organizations, and Alaska Native news. The site has step-by-step instructions for users who aren’t comfortable with computers.

Goenett said that he hopes the site will help to encourage young people by showing them the vast opportunities open to Natives who have their education and job training. It will also help them pick a career field by showing them where the high-paying jobs are – such as health care. “I think youth would go for it more if they knew,” Goenett said.

While the site hovered around a thousand jobs at the time of publication, Goenett said that he and Rastopsoff have barely scratched the surface of corporate subsidiaries, and expect the site to rapidly take off. Goenett and Rastopsoff are shareholders of a combined 10 different regional and village corporations and have a wide-reaching network of connections to the Native business world to tap into for job opportunities. So far, Goenett said, the response has been completely positive.

Plus, for Natives looking for work, it helps when people know you understand where they’re coming from, Rastopsoff added.

“And being Alaska Native and talking to other Alaska Natives, it just helps to know that there’s others out there,” Rastopsoff said.

“It’s helping people, and we enjoy helping people.”