2023 Conference Speakers



Gloria O’Neill, President & CEO

Cook Inlet Tribal Council

Serving as President and Chief Executive Officer for Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC) since 1998, Gloria O’Neill has led the organization’s growth in becoming one of the most significant service providers in Alaska and the nation.

Through rigorous attention to community-based results, Ms. O’Neill has established CITC’s national reputation as a leading innovator of effective service models for education, workforce development, family preservation, and substance dependency. Through her role at CITC, Ms. O’Neill has been a strong advocate for youth and the advancement of all Native people.

CITC and its affiliates provide approximately 50 essential programs serving more than 10,000 Alaska Native and American Indian people each year. Through its for-profit subsidiary, CITC Enterprises Inc. (CEI), CITC established a new model of sustainability for its services. Under Ms. O’Neill’s leadership, CEI founded the first indigenous video game company (2014) and launched the groundbreaking “Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa)” video game with global acclaim.

Ms. O’Neill served on the University of Alaska Board of Regents from 2012 – 2020 and is a director for the Alaska Native Justice Center (ANJC) and the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) boards. She is also a Fellow of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Children and Family Fellowship Program. In addition, Ms. O’Neill serves as Chair for the National Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children.

Ms. O’Neill earned her Master of Business Administration degree from Alaska Pacific University, and received her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, with a minor in Business Administration from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Originally from Soldotna, Ms. O’Neill is of Yup’ik, Sámi, and Irish descent.

Sheri Buretta, Board Chairman

Chugach Alaska Corporation

Sheri Buretta has served as Chugach Alaska Corporation’s (Chugach) Chairman of the Board since 1998. In her role as Chairman, she guides the vision for intergenerational prosperity. Sheri oversees and drives the board’s strategic initiatives by working in partnership with Chugach’s executive team to deliver financial results, while also overseeing Shareholder Services and Government Relations efforts which advance the economic and social well-being of our shareholders and their families mandated by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANSCA).

Sheri serves as Interim CEO for Chugach during periods of transition in leadership and is also Chairman of the Chugach Heritage Foundation and Chugach Heritage Museum & Archaeological Repository, Chugach’s nonprofits.

Sheri is an active community member, serving on the board of Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) for 25 years; Native American Contractors Association; Silver Salmon Creek Leadership Institute; Russian Orthodox Sacred Sites in Alaska (ROSSIA); The Tatitlek Corporation and Copper Mountain Foundation. In 2015, Sheri was appointed to serve on the University of Alaska Board of Regents where she was elected to serve 3 years as Chair through her term ending in February 2023.

During Sheri’s tenure as Chairman, Chugach has maintained its standing on Alaska Business Monthly’s Top 49er List for more than a decade, regularly earning the 5th or 6th rank amongst Alaska’s most profitable businesses. During her time leading Chugach, the corporation has also been the recipient of numerous awards from Best of Alaska Business, the Anchorage Chamber, and the Alaska Journal of Commerce.

Sheri was born in Anchorage, Alaska; though, her family is from the Native Village of Tatitlek located in the Prince William Sound. Sheri holds an accounting degree from the University of Alaska and a business degree from Gulf Coast Community College in Florida. She and her husband Gary have two beautiful children, Anastasia and Bo.



Sana Efird, Executive Director

Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education

Sana Efird joined the Commission in December 2020 as Executive Director, Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education / Executive Officer, Alaska Student Loan Corporation.

Prior to her appointment she served as Assistant Commissioner for the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) during three different administrations, currently overseeing a $3.3 billion budget and administrative and operational functions of DHSS including Budget, Fiscal/Revenue, Audit, Human Resources, Facilities/Leasing, Grants and Contracts, and Information Technology. She has also served as Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Education and Early Development focusing on Alaska’s Education Challenge to ensure every student across the state has equitable opportunity to learn and succeed. Her credentials include a Master of Arts from Saint Mary’s University and a Bachelor of Arts in Education from the University of South Carolina. Additionally, Sana has been a classroom teacher, teacher trainer, reading specialist, and executive director of a college foundation supporting financial scholarships and loans to help students achieve their educational goals.

She and her husband live and work in Juneau and enjoy all the outdoor activities Juneau has to offer, especially hiking and backpacking with friends.

Dr. Paul Layer, Vice President for Academics, Students & Research

University of Alaska

In May 2018, Dr. Paul W. Layer was appointed Vice President for Academics, Students & Research after serving in an interim role since November 2017.  In that capacity, he oversees academic and research programs for the University of Alaska system, which has three accredited universities: UA Anchorage, UA Fairbanks and UA Southeast. In addition, he serves as the co-chair of the Alaska State Committee for Research.

Dr. Layer is also a Professor of Geophysics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He served as department head/chair for the Department of Geology & Geophysics from 1995 to 2003, and then again in 2007. He also served as dean of UAF’s College of Natural Science & Mathematics from 2009 to 2017.

Dr. Layer has had a long affiliation with the University of Alaska Fairbanks since 1989, when he was hired as an assistant professor in the Department of Geology & Geophysics and the Geophysical Institute. He was awarded tenure in 1994 and promoted to professor at UAF in 2000. He has published over 120 papers in his research areas of radiometric geochronology and tectonics, and built strong national and international collaborations in support of his research.

Dr. Layer received his BS in geology from Michigan State University, and his MS and PhD degrees in geophysics from Stanford University. He spent three years as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, Department of Physics.



Dr. Ken S. Coates, Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation

University of Saskatchewan

Career paranoia, Aboriginal rights, technological innovations and the natural resource economy are the forces that Ken Coates thinks are transforming Canada. These are troubled times, in some quarters, as young adults struggle to find opportunities and as digital innovations chip away at this country’s most secure jobs. At the same time, scientific discoveries are shaking the foundations of modern life, just as natural resource developments sustain Canada’s high standard of living. Ken is Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Saskatchewan campus.

Ken appears regularly on various media platforms and is a prolific writer. Two of his books, Campus Confidential and What to Consider When You Are Considering University, generated a great amount of discussion on the role of Canadian post-secondary education. 

His 2015 book #IdleNoMore: And the Remaking of Canada, offers an optimistic view on the opportunity for real improvements in the lives of First Nations, Inuit and Metis people. His 2016 release Dream Factories: Why Universities Won’t Solve the Youth Jobs Crisis argues that the over-promotion of higher education and university degrees is actually undermining the lives of young people, saddling them with enormous debts, and costing governments huge amounts of money.

He has served in various academic capacities over his career including: Founding Vice-President (Academic) at the University of Northern British Columbia ; Dean, College of Arts and Science, University of Saskatchewan; Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of New Brunswick and Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Waterloo. Ken is a high-energy speaker and does a great job of keeping audience members engaged and entertained. He encourages questions and thoroughly enjoys conversations during or after events.