FAIRBANKS -- One person after another sought Buddy Brown out for answers to questions ranging from where a spare laptop computer could be found to complex budgetary questions. A confident, unruffled Brown easily answered them all at a meeting last month.
The newly-elected president of Tanana Chiefs Conference says he was trained for the role.
''I was raised to stand up and advocate for others,'' Brown said. Not many people from Alaska rural villages have risen to run a multimillion-dollar corporation as quickly as the 33-year-old Brown.
Last March, Brown won the presidency of the $76 million nonprofit Alaska Native service organization that celebrates its 40th anniversary Monday.
Brown, a lawyer, oversees 780 employees in Fairbanks and Interior villages. He grew up in Huslia and is married to his high school sweetheart, Patti. The couple have an 11-month old son, Xavier.
As president, Brown wants the Tanana Chiefs Conference to help its 42 villages toward cultural, spiritual and physical wellness, as well as economic independence. He acknowledges that means big tasks ahead.
''Duty, a strong sense of duty,'' he said, of his upbringing. Brown was raised by his mother, Gertie Esmailka, a school teacher in Huslia. He also credits his grandparents, Tony and Emily Sam, for his strong roots.
Brown is not the youngest person to head TCC. Mitch Demientieff was 19 when he took the presidency in the early 1970s.
Although Brown got his law degree in 1997 from the University of New Mexico, he admits he had no direction when he graduated from high school at 17.
After trying college for a semester at the University of Alaska Anchorage, he started playing drums in his brother's rock and roll band. Later, he went back to UAA and then later transferred to New Mexico. In the summers, he worked in TCC's legal department as an intern.
After passing the Alaska Bar, Brown was hired in 1997 to be a staff attorney by then-TCC president Will Mayo.
''Mike (Walleri) came to me some time ago and talked to me about this bright young man coming up,'' Mayo said.
''He's a grounded and settled individual,'' Mayo said, referring to Brown. ''I don't see the turmoil that sometimes you see in young men that age.''
Mayo is encouraged that Athabascans have bright young people stepping into leadership roles.
Brown will be faced with helping villages become more independent of TCC while keeping TCC a strong entity, Mayo said.
A May conference on alcohol programming showed a departure from how TCC used to spend grant money with a centralized program.
TCC had received a $1.9 million alcohol-treatment grant from the Alaska Federation of Natives, and former president Steve Ginnis, whom Brown defeated in March, decided to split the money 42 ways for each of TCC's 42 villages.
Brown carried forward the idea, calling village representatives to Fairbanks last month to discuss how to spend their shares.
Any alcohol prevention program should be relevant to the community, Brown said. ''It's got to be done by them.''
Brown, who also studied economics, said he'd like to privatize village economies. Many villages have few jobs and most are government funded.
Still, he said, subsistence practices, such as hunting and gathering, not only feed families but satisfy Athabascans' hunger for cultural relevance.
Brown will travel to Interior villages to spend time with leaders so they can get to know him and he can find out their concerns and issues. He is working on TCC's corporate culture and hopes to have identified people within the company for his management team by the end of June.
Brown has three years in his term.
He has the potential to accomplish many things, said his former boss, Walleri.
''Buddy Brown is his own man,'' Walleri said. ''He's a man that the Athabascan people can be proud of and should be very proud of.''
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