Header

In Defense of Native 8(a) Programs

Oliver J. Semans
12/31/11

Native people have the highest percentage of service in the armed forces of any U.S. ethnic group. In fact, there are nearly 190,000 Native American military veterans, which is about 7 percent of the total Native American population alone. So we should be accustomed to being attacked. But by our own Congress? In 2011? Yes indeed, certain congressional representatives have us in their sights. Their tactic of choice is the legislative sneak attack—just as it was throughout congressional history.

In the fall of 2009, for example, during a Senate-House conference on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a battle got underway before the tribes were even aware they were the target. Senator Claire McCaskill air-dropped an amendment to that year’s defense authorization—Section 811—targeting only Native 8(a) Programs with new restrictions. This immediately and effectively put a damper on all economic development in Indian Country.

Once Native communities became aware of the problem, battle lines were drawn and Lower-48 tribes, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians joined forces. Then, the Republican senator from Arizona, John McCain, joined up with Democratic McCaskill. Working together, the two senators introduced numerous amendments and bills in an attempt to further cripple Native 8(a) Programs. Tribes, Alaskan Natives and Native Hawaiians responded with telephone calls, faxes, emails and letters to their own senators, expressing opposition to such legislation.

At stake was every Native 8(a) Program in the country, along with the economic activity they represented. Tribes, Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs), and Native Hawaiian Organizations (NHOs) represent entire communities of disadvantaged individuals and are responsible for providing benefits to their members in perpetuity. Native 8(a)s create jobs in all 50 states, hiring locally and stimulating locally economies, in a time of high unemployment through innovation and quality past performance. Despite this, there have been numerous attempts to modify or all together do away with the Native 8(a) program. Because we stood united in our message, these bills and amendments did not get through. All of this occurred out of the sight of most Americans, as there was little media coverage.

The fight isn’t over though. McCaskill and McCain tried again this year, via the 2012 NDAA currently in Congress. Fortunately, through efforts of tribal leaders nationwide and Congressional allies, we eliminated the two senators’ damaging amendments. We can all appreciate the hard work of our brothers and sisters who lead Native communities around the country and of our friends in Congress; they have once again deflected a serious attack on our economic future.

What is most amazing is that 8a Native Programs truly work to build self-sufficiency for our Native peoples. Yet this is what they want to take away. Why? I’d say it’s because our Native companies have started to see success through this program, and we are now a real threat to some non-Native government contracting businesses.  These businesses are under the protection of some very powerful politicians, to whom they make contributions.

How did I come to this conclusion? It is a fact; the non-Native government-contracting program doing business with the federal government is, and long has been, rife with fraud, waste and abuse, as documented by a host of reports, lawsuits and criminal proceedings. Big contractors have even been fined—but that’s all—for giving away our military secrets! Politicians are obviously bent on not just ignoring wrongdoing, but on helping out these favored non-Native contractors/contributors.

There has been significant scrutiny of the entire Native 8(a) Program over the last few years, and many attacks have been waged to severely restrict or even end the program. It is critical that we Native people actively support the Native 8(a) Program and continue our fight for justice and the equal opportunity to pursue economic development in government contracting and other areas of commerce.  We cannot afford to allow special-interest groups and a few politicians eager for campaign contributions to push us back down the economic ladder we have struggled so hard to climb.

We must remain vigilant and be alert for any legislation that would adversely affect our sovereignty and treaty rights, if enacted. We must oppose each and every damaging legislative action, whether it affects all tribes or even just one Native community.

Oliver J. Semans is an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page

5

POST A COMMENT

Comments

letmypeoplego's picture
Put the blame where it belongs. Alaska Native Corporations. Discretionary voting, No term limits, suppression of information to shareholders, nepotism, favoritism and the parental treatment of shareholders. Now add in greed and self interest. The money doesn't get past at risk bonuses and lavish salaries and retirements for native executives. The Native people remain poor.
letmypeoplego
akwashakie's picture
While Semans is getting after the "big business theory", I'm thinking he is missing a very fundamental fact. Alaska Native Corporations are big business. They are not today, considered to be a "disadvantaged company". With revenues toppling $100 million (many approaching $1 billion, with employment-jobs- in managerial positions predominately non-Indian. ANC's have lost their heart for what Mr. Semans refers to as self-sufficiency. ANC's do promote shareholder hire -- but they do not provide American Indian/Native American hire. The ANC's will use Native American foot-in-the-door policy until they really have to sacrifice. There is no Native Pride in these ANC policies- hiring of Native Americans. Sound familiar?
akwashakie
ancshareholder's picture
I am a shareholder of an Alaska Native Corporation. As such, I've benefitted from scholarships and employment opportunities. I've even served on our village corporation board of directors for awhile. There are several misconceptions in comments from 'letmypeoplego' and 'akwashakie'. I am not sure why ANCs wholly should be responsible for the governments relentless attacks on American Indian/Alaska Native public policy. To me, having native people with attitudes that one faction of our community is responsible for the demise of the whole is exactly what the government is hoping for, divide and conquer. Good job 'letmypeoplego'. There are over 231 village corporation in Alaska. In addition, there are 13 regional corporations. The regional corporations have been involved with the SBA 8(a) program and some village corporations have as well. However, not all ANCs are big business. And within an ANC there are subsidiary companies that are the actual companies involved in the SBA 8(a) program. Being certified in only the first step in participating in federal procurement. It is very difficult to even have a small contract awarded to sole source, much less competition and that is the end goal. It is necessary to hire executives with the background, experience, and relationships in place to compete in the national marketplace. ANCs are unique with each having similar and sometimes differing internal policies regarding hiring practices, budgeting processes, bylaws, etc. For 'akwasakie' to claim that ANCs lost their heart for self-sufficiency is completely wrong. ANCs are maximizing the policies in place to benefit communities of people. The region that I am from in Alaska is larger than the state of Texas. That is one region - there are 12 others, one being landless however. The vast geography, climate, lack of roads and other basic infrastructure puts us in the poorest of the poor of Americans. Even federal prisoners have more funding per capita for their health care. 3 out of 15 villages in a region in which I lived have no water or sewer today and they never had it ever. Fuel is upwards of $10/gal to $12/gal in remote areas of Alaska, although the oil is being extracted and deported from our backyards! ANCs are not governments like lower 48 Tribes; however, we still are Native Americans. So to say that we use Native American foot-in-the-door policy until we really have to sacrifice is also wrong. We are Native Americans and we have sacrificed. In fact, we are on the forefront of the public process fighting hand-in-hand with other minority groups to keep intact policy that is starting to make a positive difference. If either of these commentors are really interested in this issue, I challenge each to really educate themselves on the issues and join together with the movement to protect the interests of all Native Americans, not just a faction of our people.
ancshareholder
curtj's picture
Why are our leaders conditioned to lose? It seems like they make it a career to be on the losing side. I have asked and the so called Indigenous leaders refuse to even bring up entities like Halliburton, who enjoys Section 8(a) contracting with the government. Halliburton enjoys tens of billions in contracts yearly, providing shoddy construction which killed tens of military kids in Iraq and Afghanistan from electrocution. It distributed contaminated water to our troops for weeks after it was found out it was delivering contaminated water to our troops. Why do our leaders refuse to address Halliburton to the bought off crooked scumbag politicians and tell them to their faces they are corrupt? Why do our so called leaders refuse to take their concerns to the Indigenous Peoples Forum of the United Nations and air out our grievances to the entire world? Why do our so called Indigenous leaders refuse to tell the bought off scumbag politicians that the policies of colonialism they foist on 3rd world countries, invading and manipulating them, setting up assassinations and coups to prop up 2 bit despot dictatorships, to ensure and enable neo conservative owned oil, energy and mining conglomerates to steal their natural resources and lands, are nothing but theft and murder and leads to terrorist attacks. It appears that more and more of the Indigenous so called leaders have given up working for the Indigenous Peoples and started working for themselves and their families. In the old days we had to work together in order to survive, there was no language like me or I. It was us and we. Now that is changed and we now have leaders who would accept bribe money and take it upon themsselves to sell out their peoples resources and lands. We never did get the Trickle Down Economics promised by the Bush Administration and the rest of the bought off cabal in all three branches of our government. What we got was the Trickle Down Corruption.
curtj
akwashakie's picture
Ancshareholder assumption that commentor doesn’t have education on the ANC issue nor is interested in the plight of OUR native movement jumps to an offensive conclusion. This commentator is well aware of ANCs requirements and have followed the historical progression of the corporations. The “big business” referred to in my comments are factual. ANCs saw revenues rise dramatically over the years, however, despite this growth, most ANC shareholders receive small dividends. It is the ANCs whose beneficiaries, less than 500, and receiving huge benefits are causing congressional investigations. The national argument regards the ANC’s contracting privileges, where the heart of the work has gone to non-native consultants and subcontractors hired to do the work. ancshareholder needs to focus his self proclaimed “expertise” on the issue, as the disparities in financial performance from the village corporation to the “big business” corporation have little to do with size, location or natural resources available to the ANC. There is a responsibility from regional corporations to village corporations to native communities. In regards to ancshareholders comments on healthcare. Historically, the “Indian Wars” – fought before Alaska statehood, provided for the healthcare of American Indians. The treaty or agreement (Snyder Act) provided for healthcare, where U.S. soldiers brought disease and death to our people, we negotiated the Act. In essence, the American Indians shed blood for Alaska Native healthcare. This brings our movement closer and binding. I've met your challenge.
akwashakie