For thousands of years, the Tlingit and Haida have lived among the emerald islands, glacier-topped mountains, and azure inlets of Southeast Alaska. In recent years, however, the region's economy has lagged, so when tribal leaders formed a corporation to generate revenue to benefit tribal members in 2010, its directors looked beyond the region to invest and grow its business.
"The Tlingit Haida Tribal Business Corporation [THTBC] was formed in 2010, but it didn't really get into business until 2014," says CEO Richard Rinehart. "It had no past history, no experience. So we started a little janitorial company so that we could get into facility support services, which has a lot of opportunities in the federal contracting space."
Federal contracting has been a mainstay for Alaska Native corporations for two decades. Their subsidiaries work to fulfill government contracting in fields as diverse as satellite communications, manufacturing, military base operations, information technology, and logistics, among others. These contracts bring billions of dollars of revenue into the state and employ tens of thousands of people around the world.
THTBC is a federally chartered Indian Reorganization Act Section 17 corporation, but most Alaska Native corporations were created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971. The legislation aimed to settle indigenous land claims by distributing 44 million acres of land and $962.5 million among Alaska's Native peoples. It created twelve regional corporations and about 200 village corporations that were tasked with dual social and economic mandates to improve the economic wellbeing of shareholders and support them through scholarships, internships, elder benefits, and programs to maintain their languages and cultures.
Overcoming Obstacles... to the Tune of $2 Billion
Many of these corporations struggled in the 1970s and 1980s. Congress, urged by former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, approved a provision in the 1986 Tax Reform Act that allowed Alaska Native corporations to sell their net operating losses and also introduced legislation opening federal contracting to the corporations. The Small Business Administration's 8(a) program allows Native corporations to access a portion of government contracts set aside for small businesses and helps them grow into successful companies over a nine year span. Native corporations are allowed to open multiple businesses through the program, and many have graduated the program and become competitive in the open marketplace. This is one way Congress has helped Alaska Natives overcome barriers to economic development in rural...