Posted by: shannynmoore | February 20, 2010

Moore Up North

Over the last decade, many Alaska Native Corporations have massively blossomed into multi-billion dollar corporations by scoring sole-source, no-bid military industrial contracts.  The ANCs have exploited a loophole at the expense of tax payers with little or no benefit to their own Alaska Native shareholders.  The ANC’s have the ability to receive contracts of any size from a federal agency as part of a Small Business Administration program for minority and disadvantaged small business.  

Recent government investigations and news reports have exposed how the ANCs have capitalized on the unique benefit and created complex business relationships with Outside multinational corporations that have no ties to Alaska or the SBA program. 

Despite the multi-billion dollar contracts and record earnings of the 19 largest ANCs, the average annual payout to 130,000 of the Alaska Native shareholders is approximately $615.  In addition, a GAO Congressional Report found that most of the executive compensation is awarded to employees that are non-native.  Overall, only 5% of the employees at ANCs are Native Alaskans. 

According to a recent US Senate Committee Report, the value of Alaska Native Corporation contracts mushroomed from $508.4 million in 2000 to $5.2 billion in 2008 an increase of 916%! 

In most publicly-traded companies, the Chief Executive Officer is the most highly-paid employee.  According to the senate subcommittee report, for one or more years between 2000 and 2008, eight ANCs paid their CEO, a (native) shareholder substantially less than a non-(native) shareholder holding a lower-ranked position.

This week on Moore Up North we examined tribal sovereignty, the Alaska Native Corporations and the connection to the huge growth in no-bid federal contracts.

I interviewed  Heather Kendall-Miller, the senior staff attorney in the Anchorage Office of the Native American Rights fund.

My panelists were:

Larry Merculieff is the former City Manager of St. Paul Island, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Commerce and Economic Development, President and CEO of Tanadgusix Corporation, Chairman of the Board of The Aleut Corporation, and General Manager of the Central Bering Sea Fishermens Association.

Karen Forsland is the Alaska District Director of the Small Business Administration

Brad Garness is the Executive Director for the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council


  1. Thank you Shannyn, I needed that.

  2. That was a good show but lots more questions left unanswered. Looks like the toughest job goes to Brad Garness of the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council. Good luck on trying to pull all these so called “Tribes” in Alaska together. There are four different tribal groups in Nome all pulling every which way but together. It’s not what the real Natives wanted in the first place. Now all this Tribalism is confusing to the most Native of the Natives.

  3. That was a fascinating show, Shannyn. I’m not an Alaskan… I’m not even an American… but I now have a greater understanding of the complexities of the Alaskan Native tribal sovereignty. Thank you.

  4. Good show Shannyn, once again it takes just a girl from Homer to boldly go where the mainstream media are very, very afraid.

    You were a little too easy on your panelists for my taste; letting them go unchallenged on some real whoppers, maybe next time. If Larry Merculief and Brad Garness really believed in transparency, they are in good positions to start with their own organizations.

    It’s oxymoronic to talk about Alaska tribal governments because Alaska tribes have none of the characteristics of governments. The only governing power they have involves child custody and that comes from a bizarre Alaska Supreme Court ruling in John v. Baker, 982 P.2d 738 (1999).

    The Declaration of Independence says, “Governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” So who consents to being governed by those in control of tribes and how did they consent? Anyone who wishes to be taken seriously as a “government” needs to answer those questions.

    In your post above you say ANC shareholders receive an average $615 per year but that comes from all of their revenue sources including shares of profits from the Red Dog mine, not just 8(a) contracting. Some ANCs don’t distribute very much of their profits from 8(a) contracting to their shareholders. Calista for example has paid its average shareholder a grand total of $200 in dividends during its 39 year existence even though it reported a 2008 net profit of $23 million, some of that from the shilling for the large corporations who are the true beneficiaries of 8(a) contracting. The board of askissers gives a tidy little sum to Mathew Nicolai as a bonus every year but not much to their long suffering shareholders. In 2007 and 2008 Matty got a bonus of $400,000 on top of his already grossly excessive salary.

    Anyhow, keep up the good work. I hope you will delve deeper in these issues. Alaska’s CBC has a substantial native contingent and most of the media is afraid to look into what they are doing lest they be tarred with the racism brush. Ironically, it is native people who are the most injured by the what their so-called leaders are getting away with.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. I knew I couldn’t hit all the soft spots…we’d never get through. I wanted this show to serve as a primer about the issue. I have every intention of following up on many of the topic that came up in this show and those we didn’t get to.

      As for the comment on the 130,000 shareholders earning roughly $615 each, that was from Senator Claire McCaskill’s report. To clarify, that report analyzed the 19 largest ANCs.

      • A distinction has to be made between Regional Corporations, which are for-profit corporations, just like any other , excepting most have made it so stock may not be sold openly, and village corporations which are recognized by the fed as tribes.
        And never the twain shall meet…

        The tribal governments DO have limited or quasi-sovereignty under federal law.The body of law addressing that goes clear back to the Constitution.
        They also have a direct relationship with the fed in being able, post 1975 Self Determination Act, to contract directly with the fed for their own social services- similarly to the way states do.
        The state of Alaska has refused to accept tribal sovereignty and a number of lawsuits turn on that.

        Also- ANSCA made a hash of property issues with the bulk of land and it’s resources being settled on the for profit Corporations who have no stake in any endeavor beyond what all for-profit corps do…
        They may endow foundations and do other non-profity things within corporation law but they are NOT governments and they are not part of the cultural landscape… no matter what people say.
        My corp is a money machine…in the same old indirect way having stock in IBM is for others…

        • (oh heck- ns crabber I was responding to you… not Ms Moore)

          • Village corporations are also for-profit business corporations created by ANCSA. As with the regional corporations, they are not regulated by the SEC and are exempt from Sarbanes-Oxley shareholder protections (Thanks a bunch Uncle Ted, (what could he possibly have been thinking))


            Tribes are hard to define in legal terms. There could be any number of people calling themselves tribes and who is to say they aren’t? The 229 tribes the federal government recognizes in Alaska are mostly for the government’s convenience. It needs to know where to send Indian program funds and this is easier than dealing with natives individually.

            Indian tribes have the same sovereignty in relations with the US government as any other foreign country which isn’t necessarily good. For example, they enjoy the same status as the Taliban, which was once the government of Afghanistan but isn’t now.

            The US Constitution only mentions Indian Tribes once, in the Commerce Clause, which lists one of the powers of Congress “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;” Nowhere does the constitution say anything about tribal governments because it has never been clear who has the authority to govern tribes and still isn’t today.

            The government doesn’t keep a roster of tribal membership so it is not possible for me to find out if I am enrolled in any tribe or if I am enrolled in more than one. Even if I am a tribal member, the tribe has no legal obligation to provide me with any sort of participation in its governance or even to let me know what they are advocating on my behalf.

            The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled that a tribal court presided over by a tribal judge who is not required to pass a bar or have any kind of judicial education can use unwritten laws, made up on the spot, to take away my kids and place them in the custody of someone the tribal court arbitrarily selects.

            On the show, Heather Kendall-Miller talked about the Venetie decisions. She was the attorney for Venetie and this was a landmark ruling on tribes in Alaska. The court in Venetie refuted Venetie’s claim that land in and around the village was Indian Country and said that the only land that is Indian Country in Alaska is the Annette Island Reserve. Without land it is hard to see how claims of sovereignty can have any meaning other than controlling the custody of children eligible for tribal membership. It may also be possible for a tribe to renege on contracts and claim sovereign immunity from creditors but this has not been resolved.

        • What a profound statement!

          “…Corporations who have no stake in any endeavor beyond what all for-profit corps do…
          They may endow foundations and do other non-profity things within corporation law but they are NOT governments and they are not part of the cultural landscape… no matter what people say.
          My corp is a money machine…in the same old indirect way having stock in IBM is for others…”

          This statement can be applied to our own nation and its relation to corporations. Corporations do NOT reflect the cultural landscape, and by permitting them to gain a foothold in government, we allow them dictate our landscape. Indeed, by restricting corporations from operating within government, we keep them in check and honest. There are thousand of ways to own and operate a business. One template cannot be expected to work for all, but a system of rules, check and balances, can insure that the final product of businesses benefit as many as possible, and to curtail the damage done when one of them fails.

          Corporations should not have sovereignty, and you have done a wonderful job illustrating that very important distinction.

      • There is a wide disparity between the haves and the have-nots among ANC shareholders related to the quality of their management. The figure Senator McCaskill reported averages dividends paid by ANCs that really cashed in on 8(a) and those that haven’t done well at anything they tried to do.

        Have you noticed that Senator McCaskill has gotten kind of quiet lately on ANC 8(a) program abuse? Do ANCs and their giant corporate “partners” have the power to silence elected officials?

        • Absolutely!

          Just look at the contracts involved, 100’s of millions of dollars a pop for NASA security, and the management of the Strategic Petroleum Reserves in Louisiana, just to name two.

        • I so have to agree!!
          It is VERY scary to think that the corporate, be them the 8A, partners or others, could be pressuring.
          We think health care is a struggle involving $, tribes are also.
          Shareholders and the general public must care and let our legislators know we care.
          As the saying goes, to judge “how they treat the least able to fight in their society”.
          We can NOT look away!

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed this 5 part series Ms. Moore. The comment regarding the right of the Russians to sell Alaska to the United States was remarkable. The history and tragedy of European and American colonialism centers on this very question. When did any country have the right to claim the lands and resources of the indigenous culture(s) residing on those lands? And just because the exchange of property between the US and the Russians was a “peaceful” exchange of money, why does that exchange seem less barbaric and heartless than say one colonial power slaughtering another on foreign soil in hopes of claiming those resources? And for that matter, why do find it less barbaric still that lands and resources are sold in the guise of mergers, stock exchanges and corporate “joint ventures?” Americans shy away from this question for the simple reason that we wish to cling to our belief that what we “own” is truly ours, and cannot be cleaved from us. We refuse to believe that our grasp on our own lands, houses and fortunes can be as tenuous and as conditional as those of the natives who were displaced when our ancestors migrated across the continent. We would rather believe that the plight of natives somehow is of their own making, and that they, through some cultural character defect, are responsible for their lack of control over their own lands and destinies. Instead of ridiculing or belittling native cultures for continuing to fight for sovereignty, non-natives should embrace the effort.

  6. Fantastic show Shannyn!

    That was quite a large bite you took out of a huge sandwich of issues. Bravo.

    Civil rights, cultural preservation, statehood, oil, profit motives and corporate personhood! Lest I forget the war profiteering too! Whew! An hour is hardly time to get started!

    I got the impression that what your guests weren’t saying had bigger implications than what they were willing to say.

    The divide between pre-1971 native shareholders and younger natives seems contrary to the overall purpose of ANCSA, what was the original intent of such a rule?

    Its almost as if there is a pre-native generation (granted shareholder status) and post-native generation who seem constrained by the power of their ANCSA corporations instead of uplifted by it.

    Do ANCSA corporations, without their size and contract limits actually enjoy less restriction than say a native individual seeking to enter the federal contracting market?

    Does that seem right to anyone? A corporation using a racial designation to gain financial advantage (no size limits etc) that an individual native can’t use in the same way? Which is “more” native? Good grief!

    If so, its almost as if ANCSA stripped some natives of opportunity so others could have more. What is the relationship like between all the ANC’s? In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling – what does this do to our elections?

    The effect of ANC’s on Alaska’s legislature and arguably our locally elected leaders has been immense – it’s the sacred cow of Alaskan politics. and probably more emotionally charged than the abortion debate or even (gasp!) oil taxes.

    I’m on the edge of my seat looking forward to this weeks radio program and the next installment of Moore Up North (hopefully I can score tickets for the taping!)

    Thanks for tackling this, its obviously too big for our news-tainment folks to handle.

    Keep it up brave girl from Homer!

    • Ditto, “Keep it up brave girl from Homer!”

  7. SM
    Remember Ted Stevens ensured that military spending increases would be tied politically to the smallest of the small native villages in Alaska via Native Corps. He got rent off them via Roubini. Mr. Elmendorf Base contractor sweetheart deal

    It was not a political accident we have an empire that we can’t reign in regardless of Presidents or parties.

  8. After thousands of years of hunting and fishing on ancestral lands and following natural laws of Being Human, we have been media-ized for political gain.

    It is illegal under facist State of Alaska law to sell a salmon to help the ‘noble indian’, yet all these quasi-multi-national smokescreen ‘Native Corporations’ slave away for OUTSIDE BANKERS and london markateers to steal our mineral resources including oil and gas.

    Equation for politicized Native:

    State of Alaska anti-Native salmon laws= resource extraction and stolen resources for big banks + subsidies for London bankers (Canada is moving fast to get rich also) + confusing corporatocracy to further racially divide alaskans

  9. We want to hear more from Larry Merculieff, & Brad Garness.

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