WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (March 14-20, 2011)

SOCIAL ENTERPRISE

Villages Testify to Disparity in Benefits Alaska Native Corporations Provide; Chenega Corp., one of the most successful Alaska Native Corporations, has won billions of dollars in no-bid government contracts, allowing it to provide substantial benefits for its shareholders’ village, such as a new Russian Orthodox church. Other ANCs have seen far fewer benefits.” By Jennifer LaFleur and Michael Grabell. ProPublica.org. March 17, 2011. Congress created the system of Alaska Native Corporations [1] with the promise of bringing prosperity to a scattered indigenous population long stuck in poverty. Natives were granted shares in the corporations, which eventually gained special contracting privileges from Congress. But decades later, the villages of Chenega Bay and Napaskiak testify to the broad gap in benefits that ANCs provide. Many of Chenega’s residents are shareholders in one of the most successful and politically connected ANCs, Chenega Corp. [2], which has won multimillion-dollar contracts rebuilding Iraq, securing Guantanamo Bay and repairing X-ray machines at airports and borders. One of the top-grossing ANCs, Chenega has only 170 shareholders, Totemoff among them. Calista Corp. [4], the primary ANC serving Napaskiak and its neighboring villages, has paid dividends only three times in more than 25 years. The largest, in 2010, provided $225 for the typical shareholder in a region where a gallon of milk costs $9 and annual heating costs can run in the thousands. In part, geography and math work against Calista, which has more than 13,000 shareholders spread over an area the size of Michigan. Alaska natives like Totemoff and the Maxies are now at the center of a national debate over ANCs. Critics in Congress want to strip some of the ANCs’ contracting privileges, arguing that the lion’s share of benefits has gone to non-native consultants and subcontractors hired to do the work. Their defenders say the accusations are overblown and that punishing ANCs will make it even harder to create needed jobs, educational opportunities and cultural programs.

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