A Legacy of Partnership: Chugach’s 50-year partnership with the federal government

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 (ANCSA) marked a new Congressional approach to federal Indian policy. ANCSA created corporations contemplated by Congress to care for the social, cultural and economic advancement of their respective Alaska Native people and communities in perpetuity. It also represented a departure from the tribal reservation system widely used in the Lower 48, and instead sought to empower Alaska Natives with control over land and cash assets received through the settlement.

ANCSA sparked profound changes for the Alaska Native community, the state of Alaska and the federal government – creating a unique constitutional relationship between the 12 regional corporations and over 200 village corporations, and the government that created them.

In the five decades since Congress passed ANCSA, Chugach Alaska Corporation (Chugach) has been one of the 12 regional corporations that has built a successful partnership with the federal government in order to fulfill its mandate to Alaska Natives.

From generating revenue through the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) federal government contracting program, to receiving contracts and grants from the Secretary of the Interior and other government agencies, these opportunities recognize the shared responsibility of the government and Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) to support Alaska Native people.

Cadastral Surveys

Under the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA) Chugach contracts with and receives grants (see link below) from the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM). For nearly three decades, Chugach has conducted cadastral surveys for the BLM to help identify and mark lands that qualify as cultural and heritage sites under ANCSA Section 14(h)(1).

Today Chugach owns 93 historical 14(h)(1) sites totaling approximately 1,670 acres, and continues to invest resources in returning the lands to their rightful owners and finalizing its land settlement with the federal government.

Housing Assistance

Chugach also works to address the housing needs of Alaska Natives through the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA), which helps Chugach secure funding for affordable tribal housing activities. For instance, NAHASDA provided $2.6M in 2021 (see link below). Chugach teams up with non-profit North Pacific Rim Housing Authority (NPRHA) to use grant funding on behalf of Alaska Natives (see HUD.gov). Many ANCSA regions include areas with significant Alaska Native population without being in the service area of a sovereign tribe. In these cases, the regional ANC serves as a critical conduit for NAHASDA funding and other housing assistance programs.  In the absence of funding through Chugach, Alaska Natives in the Chugach region would lack access to affordable housing.

Valdez Native Tribe and Qutekcak Native Tribe Delegations

Chugach, based on its unique status as a regional corporation, is also able to provide millions of dollars in funding each year to tribal non-profits within its region.  Under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA), federal agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services’ Indian Health Service (IHS) and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) recognize Chugach as the Indian tribe for certain Alaska Natives. This status allows Chugach to authorize tribal non-profits to apply for and receive services, contracts and grants. Chugach has provided the Valdez Native Tribe and Qutekcak Native Tribes in Valdez and Seward, respectively, the ability to apply for, negotiate and receive from the BIA and IHS services, contracts and grants, on behalf of all Chugach shareholders and eligible Alaska Natives residing in the Valdez and Seward areas (see link below).

The Legacy Continues

In establishing ANCs 50 years ago, Congress recognized the unique challenges facing Indigenous communities in Alaska, which holds the largest percentage of Native people per capita in the country. Their solution was to create ANCs, rather than traditional reservations. Unfortunately, in recent years some misguided individuals and organizations have chosen to target ANCs for their own gain, spreading misinformation about the role and mission of ANCs that threatens to deny Alaska Natives resources and benefits to which they are entitled.

Today, despite the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on American Indian and Alaska Native communities, ongoing litigation between ANCs and Lower 48 tribes has delayed emergency relief funds that Congress intended for Alaska Natives through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act tribal aid, and punished us for the unique Alaska Native system established 50 years ago by ANCSA. Meanwhile, the state’s villages and remote rural communities struggle to provide even the most basic services to residents, including adequate water and sewer systems, infrastructure, education and healthcare.

It’s critical to recognize the role of ANCs in advocating for and providing these important services to those of our population who may not be served otherwise.