Rachel Kallander was just three years old when the Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker, struck the Bligh Reef and spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into the Prince William Sound. At the time, Rachel lived in Cordova, Alaska, which was practically ground zero for the spill. Cordova being a commercial fishing community, Rachel belonged to a commercial fishing family. The event hit her family and their small community of 2,300 fisherman–including their families and friends–very hard. Reporters came to Cordova in droves to, as Rachel says, “study them” to see how they would weather the spill. Needless to say, all of these things had a profound effect on Rachel’s childhood.
“The oil spill became a narrative growing up in Cordova,” Rachel says, “For 21 years, we fought Exxon. Some people had positive reactions, ‘We are resilient,’ they would say. Others took a more negative approach, saying, ‘Bad things happen. Pick yourself up by your bootstraps. There is nothing you can do.’ I distinctly remember a pivotal moment in second grade. My teacher asked the classroom of students, ‘Have you seen the reporters? How do they make you feel? The entire class started speaking out in anger and frustration. The teacher was taken aback. ‘Why?’ She asked. ‘Because they talk to our parents, the fishermen, and the scientists, but they never talk to us,’ we all said, ‘They never ask us how we feel, and we live here too!’ We were communicating, in a way, ‘We are the future, how could you not think of us?’ I remember the feeling of being justified.”
Rachel’s experience gave her a unique perspective. “I understand what it feels like to be in the trenches fighting for your livelihood, together, as a community,” she says. “All Cordovans who lived there in 1989 know that feeling.” She made it her personal mission to advocate for Alaskans and their livelihoods, helping them convene and tell their story.
Rachel went to law school at the University of Washington (UW). Before pursuing her doctorate, she worked in Congress, the Alaska State Legislature, and became involved in numerous political campaigns, including serving as Deputy Campaign Manager and Spokeswoman on the 2016 Lisa Murkowski for U.S. Senate race. At first, she thought she was going to go back to D.C. after graduating law school. She never felt called to work for a law firm, and she didn’t plan on being a full-time consultant. But after receiving wise counsel to start her own company, Rachel enlisted her father’s help to become an entrepreneur.
She founded Kallander & Associates in 2013, providing political and public policy services as well as research and persuasive writing. Not a month later, she founded a non-profit, Arctic Encounter, convening symposia to raise awareness for the challenges and opportunities facing the Arctic region. All of this she accomplished while still attending law school at UW.
Today, Arctic Encounter is the largest annual Arctic policy and business convening in the United States. The non-profit now has strategic partners worldwide and convenes events internationally each year in addition to its flagship U.S. events. Two weeks prior to our interview with Rachel, she had just gathered representatives from twenty different nations–including all eight Arctic nations–for their third event in Europe. The non-profit’s 6th annual flagship event will take place in Seattle, Washington April 25-26, 2019.
Through her for-profit arm, Rachel has just as much impact. Kallander & Associates is motivated and invested to assist Alaskan stakeholders advocate for their industries and livelihood. She and her team coordinate testimony, engage in massive public comment submission processes, recruit the support of city councils, native corporations, and associations, and work to empower stakeholders with talking points to fight for their rights and futures. The mission in the office of Kallander & Associates is to influence the decisions being made that impact lives for the better. Due to Rachel’s experiences growing up, she knows this is possible and strives to be a part of making that impact. Rachel takes a holistic approach to her work. “I like to think, ‘if this were being studied by a political science class, what would it look like?'” She says, “Were just the big voices heard or were the small voices brought to the same level? Where I come from, you could be wearing XTRATUFs and a ball cap and negotiate a big deal on the hood of a truck. Creative minds and work ethic deserve to be brought to the table just as much as big, fancy titles.”