Voices from the Flats – AFN Day 2. Corporations are Not Tribes!
By Elstun Lauesen
The most interesting meeting on Day 2 of the AFN Conference was on Village Survival! It wasn’t held at AFN. It wasn’t on the official AFN agenda. It was held miles away from the Carlson Center.
It was a government-to-government consultation held with Alaska Tribal Leaders well away from the AFN venue. Mike Williams, Chief of Akiak Yupiit, sobriety advocate and mental health counselor organized the meeting while the Undersecretary for Indian Affairs, Larry Echohawk was in town for AFN. But the nature of the meeting, electric with a sense of urgency, required that the Tribal representatives be free to speak from their hearts, at length, to the single most important bureaucrat in the Obama Administration. It was obvious to me, after 5 minutes in the room with these passionate, eloquent and angry Tribal members, that this is the kind of meeting AFN SHOULD be hosting instead of the perfunctory, head-and-shoulders reporting of bureaucrats that drives large numbers of delegates into retreat to the snack bar, exhibit space or outside on a beautiful day.
The meeting at David Salmon Hall next to the Tanana Chiefs Conference Office building was nothing like the AFN meeting I came from. In this meeting the audience did the talking and the folks on the podium listened. When I walked in, Harold Napoleon was walking through a list of deficiencies inherent in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). The date of December 18, 1971 is the demarcation between those who are vested in their corporations and those who are not, creating, in essence a ‘de facto’ termination date for Alaska Natives. He recalled that the prime motive at the beginning of the settlement movement was preserving traditional land use and hunting and fishing rights. Instead, ANCSA became a vehicle for separating Alaska Natives from their lands and imposing new rules and new classes of users on the hunting and fishing. The corporations created under ANCSA were supposed to complement the Tribes and help develop jobs and the economy of the Villages. Instead what has happened, according to Mr. Napoleon, is that the federal government now deals directly with the Corporations, by-passing the Tribes.
Napoleon mentioned, as did several others after him, that a recent ‘government-to-government consultation’ involved ANCSA Corporations, non-profits and excluded the Tribes. When Mike Williams and others tried to attend the consultation, they were ‘kicked out’. This really made my ears perk up.
It turns out that the late Senator Ted Stevens put language in an earmark in the FY 2005 budget that quietly changes the nature of the Cook Inlet Regional Corporation, Arctic Slope regional Corporation and other ANCSA Corporations from being merely corporations to being “Tribes”. Stevens, who was no friend of Tribes in Alaska, nevertheless succeeded in turning ANCSA Corporations into Tribes. That’s right, folks. That oil field executive with the southern accent who runs an ANCSA subsidiary and lunches at the Petroleum Club and donates to Joe Miller works for an Indian Tribe! Ya-Ta-Hey.
Evelyn Thomas, the Chief of Crooked Creek: “We do not have a problem with profit-making corporations, but no where in the rest of the U.S. does a profit-making corporation have government-to-government relationship with the federal government!”
Other speakers from Unalakleet, Pt. Hope, Barrow, Bristol Bay told the same story to an attentive Undersecretary.
One speaker, whose name I didn’t catch, pointed out that his Tribe quit approaching their regional corporation for support like matching funds for grants because they always got the same story: the corporation has a fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders and can’t donate money to tribes; if they do it for one, they will have to do it for all.
Now, it seems, that the corporations are really governments.
When I arrived at the David Salmon Hall, I was handed a resolution headed “Alaska Tribal Leaders Summit, Resolution #2. The resolution reads, in part:
“Whereas PL 108-199 SEC 161 and PL 108-447 SEC 518 were enacted by circumventing the normal legislative process in violation to the spirit and intent of Executive Order 13175 which requires the Executive Office of the president and all federal agencies to consult with us before any action is taken which affects our status as Indian Tribes, and;
Whereas, PL 108-99 SEC 161 and PL 108-447 SEC 518 were passed by “earmark” without the benefit of hearings and without the knowledge and consent of the federally recognized Indian Tribes, and
Whereas, Alaska Native corporations are state chartered profit corporations created by federal mandate by the Tribes of Alaska in 1972 pursuant to PL 92-203, and;
Whereas these corporations are not Tribes, and will never be Tribes, and;
Whereas PL 108-99 SEC 161 and PL 108-447 SEC 518 encroach upon, devalue, and are an assault on our status as federally recognized Tribes and sovereign Indian Nations;
Now therefore be it resolved by the federally recognized tribes of Alaska represented at the 2010 Alaska Federation of Natives convention to denounce the process used to enact these earmarks, their intent, and the affect they have on the status of Alaska’s Tribes, and;
Be it further resolved by the federally recognized Tribes of Alaska to petition the president of the United States to halt implementation of PL 108-99 SEC 161 and PL 108-447 SEC 518 until they have been reviewed for constitutionality as to process, intent and effect.
Reading this Resolution brought two things to mind: (1) No wonder Blackwater and other large contractors embraced the ANCSA Corporations as Prime Contractors. As ‘Tribal governments” they can by-pass the various FAR—federal contracting regulations-requirements that limit access to large federal contracts; (2) No wonder Clair McCaskill (D-Mo) who has been demonized by the corporate-run AFN, wants to investigate the abuse of the 8(a) program by ANCSA Corporations, exactly as this Resolution calls for.
I believe this Resolution will be introduced tomorrow. I will watch the debate. And I will look very closely at the faces of the most notable personalities at AFN to see if there is any sign of shame or embarrassment as they face the Tribal delegates.
Thanks again to Ronn Murray for his excellent photographs of the events at AFN. Here is his photo album from Day 2!