Monday, July 27, 2009

Alaska Native contract senate hearings

What with all the Palin news, I haven't even attempted much Native news updates. But there's a whole lot going on, especially in D.C.

Senate hearings on Alaska Native contracts (from the Anchorage Daily News)

Probably one of the most publicized Native news pieces is regarding the Alaska Native federal contracts. In short - many Alaska Native corporations are using a small-business administration program that allows for preference to minority-owned businesses. U.S. Sen. McCaskill is trying to create big reform, saying that the corporations are abusing the program.

It is hard to say where I really stand on this - I can see both sides. There are Alaska Native corporations I don't really think can be called a disadvantaged business, and I think competition should happen (some of the contracts are given without.) Yet my fear is what happens with most things regarding Alaska Native corporations - they are all painted with the same brush. The Alaska Native corporations that are raking in the money are an incredible minority. Many are really struggling - one of the 13 regional corporations looks to have gone under. What's more, the Alaska Native corporations that are succeeding take constant flak for their success. Can we all turn around and make Kaladi Brothers justify their success at every turn? My guess is it was smart business practices.

I don't know enough about the current laws to see where reform is needed. It seems like fair should be fair - a business that is disadvantaged should hold the same weight in a bid as another business that is disadvantaged in the spirit of the program. If that's not happening, things should change. They should define just who they are trying to give help to.

One thing many don't understand about Native corporations is that they are not run at all like regular corporations. What other corporations are required to give 70% of its natural resource profits to "competing" companies if they aren't doing well? Can you imagine if Conoco Philips were required to give 70% of its profits from oil to Exxon when Exxon had a bad run? Yet all the big (13) Native corporations are required to do this, or at least the ones doing well.

And the money doesn't all go to line pockets of "all the wealthy Natives." I'm sure enough of it finds its way to corruption, as in any major business, but I would wager most Native corporations people see on a regular basis are actually non-profits. The money goes to health care, social services, cultural programs, scholarships and justice programs.

Coca-Cola and Microsoft get major kudos when they give a small percentage of their profit toward college scholarships and building a wing in a hospital. I challenge anyone to look at just how much the for-profit Native corporations have spent on the non-profits - health care, justice, culture, housing, you name it. What's more, they are expected to do this, and little recognition is given, or at least, certainly not the same recognition as a non-Native corporation.

I'm glad they are doing it, and I do expect Native corporations to spend substantial amounts on Native health, welfare and culture. I just hope that people realize these contracts aren't given, and then every Native person in Alaska is walking around with a fortune in Native dividend checks.

To be transparent about my own tie to this, I have received exactly three checks in my life from my corporation - the largest sum was enough to pay two months car insurance, the smallest two tanks of gas. I don't happen to think there's anything so wrong with that - I would rather the shareholder money go toward building up tradtional language programs or funding college (I HAVE earned scholarships, and would prefer those any day!) than paying my bills... Of course, I'm not struggling with outrageous heating costs and children to feed, so I have the freedom to say that.

I'm glad both Sen. Begich and Sen. Murkowski are fighting the good fight on this. Although I'm sure reform is on its way, I have a hope that it will be fair, instead of a retribution, or favoring some other side. Don't know that that is how it will turn out, but with the many voices I've been hearing about in D.C. speaking out about this, and two senators, there's at least a chance... right?


Anonymous said...

Shareholders in the 13th do not benefit from that 70% share...nor do they have a land base.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

O/T. jesus, it's nice to know you visit and will come back...I 'spose you're busy over at pharyngula, they've been calling you...

Anonymous said...

It is hard to say where I really stand on this - I can see both sides.

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