For those who were intrigued by the Hawaii Reporter investigative work on the rise of Native Hawaiian Companies (and their somewhat incestuous relationship with government spending and granting), there’s more to be learned via the rise of Alaska Native Corporations. A recent piece from the Alaska Dispatch sends about the success (and questions it raises) of the ANCs that gives a clue to where Hawaii may soon be headed:
In the face of explosive growth, and the huge financial successes and sometime extreme abuses that have occurred along the way, Alaska Native Corporations have come under heightened scrutiny, most notably by U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who has pushed to end the contracting privileges of ANCs. It seems that for every success story about a company that’s used 8(a) contracting as a springboard to independence, there’s a concern raised somewhere about someone abusing the system. To combat the negative press and defend the privileges of indigenous people to fully engage their rights as uniquely situated business owners who are working for not just a handful of individuals but for entire communities, advocacy groups like Native 8(a) Works have also cropped up.
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This year news stories in Alaska and beyond have chronicled questionable contracts, high paid executives, and whether the money is making it back to the people Alaska Native Corporations are congressionally mandated to help — the impoverished people and communities of their region of origin. Most recently, articles by the Washington Post and ProPublica demonstrate how imperfect and thorny the intersection the of the U.S. government’s tribal obligations with politics, wealth and poverty, corporations and shareholders, taxes and accountability, can be.
Native Hawaiian organizations and their subsidiaries have only in the last several years begun to navigate the government contracting privileges that Alaska Native corporations have spent two decades learning to fully engage. If NHOs continue to follow the path cut by ANCs, they may well encounter great success. Should they find it, they can expect plenty of tough questions about what they’re doing, how they’re getting it done, who’s making money and who’s not, and whether taxpayers are getting a good value along the way.