Kim Panitchiaq Sigvaun Jorgensen has served as NANA’s senior vice president, general counsel and chief legal officer since 2017. She’s the first shareholder in this role.
What is your Iñupiaq name?
I was given my grandmothers’ Iñupiaq names, so I have two. Panitchiaq was my father’s mother (Jessie Nagaruk Jorgensen), and Sigvaun was my mother’s mother (Norma Reich).
Where did you grow up? What was that like?
I grew up in Kotzebue, where I learned the importance of family. My parents were Trygve Jorgensen Sr. and Mamie (Reich) Jorgensen. My sister is Nicole Stoops.
We grew up learning our Iñupiaq values and culture. Our people are a spiritual people. My mother instilled faith and humility in my sister and me, and to have compassion for those who are hurting or less fortunate. She also instilled a deep sense of respect for our Elders.
Mom taught us how to be resilient and resourceful, despite being poor. We learned how to make things from scratch. I was five or six when I learned how to bake bread.
That’s a useful skill now, during the pandemic.
Yes and we also learned how to cut hair. Before she had us kids, Mom attended beauty school in Anchorage. She eventually taught us how to cut and perm hair. We practiced on each other.
Mom had always wanted to go off to college, but never had the opportunity. She stressed the importance of education to me and my sister. She told us that, with a college education, we would be able to live a better life and we could become anything that we wanted to be.
Where did you go to school?
I graduated from Kotzebue High School. Through their honors program, I took classes at the Chukchi campus (in Kotzebue) and I was able to apply some of those credits when I went to college.
I hold a bachelor’s degree in Native American studies from Dartmouth College, a master’s degree in American Indian studies/federal Indian law and history from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and a Juris Doctor degree from the UCLA School of Law.
Why did you choose to study law?
Becoming an attorney was not part of my original plan. As an undergrad at Dartmouth, I took my first federal Indian law class and completely fell in love with it.
In my master’s program at UCLA, my thesis advisor was an Indian law professor, and she encouraged me to apply to law school. Being 23 or 24 years old at the time, I was like, “Okay.” So, I did.
I tell people that I kind of fell into going to law school. I had never planned on it up until I did it. I realized though, if I was to become an effective leader and really help our Native people, that a law degree would be useful.
What are your main job responsibilities at NANA?
I provide counsel to the executive leadership, with a focus on compliance and regulatory issues for NANA and its subsidiary businesses. I also provide counsel and support to the NANA board of directors on corporate governance, fiduciary duties, ethics and compliance and strategic transactions.
You have said that working at NANA was your dream job. What did you mean?
I really enjoy supporting the board and being able to work for NANA. As an Alaska Native attorney, the highest position in the field of law, related to Alaska Native corporations, is to be the chief legal officer and general counsel of your own corporation.
What is your first memory of NANA and of being a NANA shareholder?
I remember attending a shareholder meeting with my mom and sister in Kotzebue when I was a little girl. When I was six, my father passed away, and I inherited his NANA shares. (This was before NANA approved Class D shares for “after-borns,” those born after 1971.) Mom told me to stand in line to register as a shareholder, but the ladies working at the table told me I was too young. In my shy way, I spoke up, “I received my dad’s shares.”
What was your very first job?
When I was home from college for the summer, I waited tables at the old Nullaġvik Hotel restaurant. I think it’s kind of cool that I’m back at NANA (now in senior management).
Who has inspired you?
My mother was definitely an inspiration to me, growing up.
In college, graduate school and law school, I’ve been blessed with really amazing friends and colleagues—Native women, Latina women, African American women, Asian American women. Like me, they left their families and communities to seek an education and to pursue their dreams.
At every step of my career, when I was an assistant district attorney or working for an Alaska Native corporation, I’ve had amazing mentors.
I’m continually inspired by our board of directors and staff members who work so hard for our shareholders.
What has surprised you most about working at NANA?
A nice surprise has been the ability to travel to each of our villages in the NANA region. Of course, COVID-19 has prevented travel this year, but I really enjoy being in the villages for shareholder meetings. Also, when I joined NANA, I didn’t realize how much we are respected within the state, among the other Alaska Native corporations (ANCs). We are definitely viewed as a leader among the ANC community.
What are important lessons that you have learned?
I have always believed that communication and teamwork are important for management to be most effective. I’ve learned what our board sees as crucial for our shareholders, namely investing in our NANA region, and what that would look like.
What advice do you have for young shareholders?
A good education can open doors for you, to live a better life and to help your family. It is a sacrifice to leave home to go to college, but it is so worth it.
Never give up. Whatever you choose to do, even if you don’t go away to college, do your best. My mom always said, whatever you do, make sure you do it right.
What might someone be surprised to know about you?
They might be surprised to know that I’m a musical person. I play instruments, sing and dance. I played the piano and saxophone in high school, and I sing. I sang in the Dartmouth Gospel Choir my whole four years in college.
I am also an avid salsa dancer—I was big in the salsa scene the entire eight years that I lived in Los Angeles and had even been asked to audition for professional dance teams. At the time, I was too busy with law school to try out, but I loved to go out dancing.
What are you most grateful for?
I am grateful for everything—for all my blessings and also for the obstacles I have had to go through. I am grateful for my upbringing, our Iñupiaq culture and faith. I am grateful for my sister, her husband and my nephews. I am grateful for my dearest friends all over the country and for my job at NANA.