As the Legislature approached the vote on whether to override the governor’s vetoes last week, the state’s 12 Alaska Native regional corporations sent a rare unified letter to the Legislature joining thousands of individuals, groups and companies warning that the cuts would “will plunge Alaska into a fiscal and social crisis.”
The letter was notable because the private, for-profit regional corporations typically shy away from getting involved in politics as a unified group, but it struck a nerve for Eagle River Republican Sen. Lora Reinbold who shared our article on the letter on Facebook loaded with a Trump-style diatribe attacking the corporations for speaking up:
“Why do these corporations (that were given tremendous money and land, basically free, partly to help allow the oil pipeline to be built) need so many state subsidies still? Are they taking care of the native people as they agreed to? How much in taxes do they pay to the state coffers with the billions of dollars of revenue they generate? Unlike the average citizen, the Regional corps get rights to resources below their land.”
It was so loaded with misunderstandings and attacks that not only ANCSA Regional Association, which represents the 12 regional corporations and sent the original letter, but the Alaska Federation of Natives and the Alaska Native Village Corporation Association sent her a letter asking her to set the record straight. They called the claims, particularly about the supposed free money that the for-profit regional corporations received, “both incorrect and inflammatory.”
“Specifically, which ‘subsidies’ do you believe the State of Alaska provides Alaska Native corporations?” asks the letter. “To our knowledge there are none. If we are mistaken, please correct us. If you are mistaken, we kindly ask you to retract your misstatement.”
The letter explains that the money they were “given” for “basically free” ignores history.
“This is both incorrect and inflammatory,” the letter explains. “Native corporations were created under ANCSA to compensate Alaska Natives for relinquishing aboriginal titles to our lands, including hunting and fishing rights. In exchange, Native peoples received $947 million from the U.S. Congress for lands retained.”
The letter also explains that regional corporations do, in fact, pay taxes and as for subsurface mineral rights, the letter says “it is considerably more complicated than you suggest and call to question your own understanding of ANCs and their importance to the Alaskan economy.”
Reinbold’s post repeats what is an unfortunately common misunderstanding about the role of Alaska Native regional corporations. They are not and never were supposed to be welfare organizations. They are for-profit corporations with all the duties of a for-profit corporation—to make money—and none of the responsibilities Reinbold claims they have.
“On what basis do you believe ANCs ‘agreed’ to take care of Native peoples? While ‘taking care of’ Native peoples is not implicitly stated in ANCSA, Native corporations improve the life outcomes of Alaska Natives through affiliated and non-affiliated non-profits. ANCs do this because of a strong sense of pride in Native ownership and corporate responsibility,” explains the letter. “This does not, however, abdicate the State’s Article VII constitutional responsibilities to provide for the public education, public health, and public welfare of Alaskans, including Alaska Natives.”
Perhaps Reinbold is confusing Alaska Native regional corporations, such as Doyon, Limited and the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, with Alaska Native regional non-profits like the Tanana Chiefs Conference, which help deliver government-funded services both in rural and urban Alaska.
Reinbold has since altered some of the post, removing the words “basically free” and changing “Are they taking care of the native people as they agreed to?” to “Are they taking care of the native people as they should?”
Still, that statement misses the point. These are for-profit, private companies. It’s akin to asking if Fred Meyer or ConocoPhillips “are taking care of Alaskans as they should?” They can choose to help, but nothing requires them to.
The letter from the Alaska Native groups makes the case that even though the regional corporations are for-profit, they’re still doing more to help Alaskans than many other private corporations.
“On average 85 percent of more of ANC net income is returned to their respective regions and villages in the form of shareholder dividends, scholarships and donations to Native and non-Native affiliated non-profits—irrespective of whether they serve Native or non-Native people. Most for-profit non-Native corporations do not follow this model,” explains the letter. “Finally, ANCs earn a large portion of their revenues outside of Alaska and return the net profits and benefits to Alaskans. In contrast, many for-profit businesses that operate in Alaska send their Alaska-based profits to their out-of-state headquarters.”
Reinbold has since doubled down on her criticisms of Alaska Native regional corporations, saying that since “native corps entered into our budget battle publicly- its fair to ask questions.”
She’s since said she’s “willing to meet with these native corporations and learn more from them in addition to asking tough questions” as long as she can go through their books “to see how the revenue is used in villages.”
Again, that’s none of her business. They are, once again, private corporations. Will she ask the same of the oil companies?
Misconceptions about the Native villages and corporations are rampant among many Alaskans with no knowledge or experience with those entities or the reality of village life. Some have the misbegotten belief that village life is a life of luxury funded by taxpayers. Having lived and worked in various villages I can testify that those misconceptions are quite wrong. The details of those experiences are too lengthy to list here, but one wonders why it’s anyone’s business how people in the villages live. Is it based in racial issues? Who is being hurt by US citizens receiving benefits that are not necessarily available to all citizens. Remember that many aspects of city life have been funded by government to the benefit of city dwellers.