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McCaskill Hearing an Opportunity to Educate on American History

This week in our nation’s capital, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is chairing a hearing on the provisions of the Small Business Administration 8(a) Business Development Program. The 8(a) program, created by Congress in the 1960s, provides disadvantaged businesses, whether veteran-owned, Hispanic-owned or female-owned, with contracting opportunities with our federal government. It also has a special provision for tribal-government-owned and Alaska Native Corporation-owned firms to promote participation by communal enterprises to reinvest any business success into social and cultural programming of America’s first peoples.[IMGCAP(1)]Any opportunity to educate Congress and be reminded of the American history that swallowed millions of acres of native lands to build this great nation is a good thing. We realize that Sen. McCaskill may not be focused on that history and does not see our tribal firms as they are — vehicles for commerce that are one of our best chances to reverse the economic destruction caused by Manifest Destiny that left millions of our people homeless in our own homelands. It is a history worth understanding.McCaskill is attempting to isolate the progress of Alaska Native Corporations and espousing this progress as if these corporations that Congress created in 1971 should not succeed, or that the minuscule success in comparison to privately owned corporations in government contracting means something is wrong. The simple truth is the growth of native companies, full-blooded American companies that hire American, buy American, and are American, has been less than 1 percent.It appears that the McCaskill hearings are hunting Indians, when they should be used to figure out how to replicate and grow 1 percent to 10 percent across Indian country. Our success as tribal firms is the country’s success. We don’t move our operations overseas, we don’t have foreign investors, we don’t cut and run when the economy slows down — we’re home, no matter what state — Alaska, North Dakota, New Mexico, even Missouri.The McCaskill hearings could be an opportunity to learn about just what a tribal or native corporation is, something Congress itself created through the enactment of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971, in order for Congress to take title to more than 300 million acres of native lands. Now, after nearly 40 years, mere progress in the past five years in government contracting is something to reform? Next, it will be the minority 8(a)s, finding success with Latino and African-American firms that should be reformed, and after that, the veteran-owned 8(a)s will find themselves under a McCaskill investigation.If there are reforms to be made, it is clear that they should be focused on increasing the success of every 8(a) firm, and without question, how to increase the minuscule 1 percent growth of native community enterprises to double digits. That would be the kind of reform that builds America, creates jobs at home, and for native peoples, honors the treaties and promises made by every Congress since our great country was founded.Tex Hall is chairman of the Inter-Tribal Economic Alliance.