Sunday, July 27, 2008

Real Native Myths and Legends, #2 - Native corporation dividends

The first of this series is a pretty easy one to answer. Do all Alaska Native people receive big checks from Native corporations?

In a word - no.

And I'd like to add, if this were true, the college loan office wouldn't be calling quite so much.

All the background about why these corporations exist in the first place is incredibly rich and complicated, and most Native people my age don't know half of the history, much less the general public. I took a semester long class on the subject, and we barely scratched the surface. But here's an attempt at boiling a huge, generations-long battle into a few sentences:

The 12 original regional corporations were created in 1971, under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA.) The act is what it sounds like, the settlement of Alaska Native Land Claims, although that's a much tighter package to wrap it in than what it encompasses.

Every Alaska Native person born before the act was passed in 1971, and met the qualifying amount of Native blood, was eligible to apply as a corporation shareholder. All those born after the date (like yours truly) can not be original shareholders, and (until last year) could only receive shares through inheritance or gifts. The original funds were a legal exchange between Alaska Native people and the government, payment for land. The corporations invested in many different ways. Now, all the regional corporations - there are now 13 - as well as the dozens of village corporations, have different ways of distributing dividends, if they get one at all.

But I can gaurantee one thing - very, very few corporations are distributing big checks. And ALL of what any shareholder may receive is dependant on how the corporation operated during the year. If they invest well, the shareholders do well. If they do poorly, you see my point...

This is not an attempt to rehash what you might know, but it is an extremely common question, or assumption, about Native people and corporation checks.

Did I leave anything out?