by Rebecca Ketah-Roxas
October 21, 2004
I am compelled to provide you with information that will dispel the myth of the "rich Native" -- to give non-Natives a reality check about the supposed enrichment of Alaskan Natives due to the regional and village corporations established under the Alaskan Native Claims Settlement Act ("A.N.C.S.A."). Four factors compel me to write. First, while escorting my mother to the San Diego airport to board an Alaska Airlines flight home to Ketchikan, my niece, age 16, was bidding farewell to her grandmother. My niece has fine taste in clothing that is economical, but doesn't look cheap. A White adult, female passenger looked up and down at my niece begrudgingly and smirked while stating, "Rich Natives" in a resentful, envious tone. Second, I have learned that my younger sister and her husband have yet to secure regular employment after relocating back home to Ketchikan. Third, in local Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood camp meetings, it is often noted that when economic downturns affect the local economy many employers lay-off Natives first. Lastly, I have just finished my review of the annual audit of the 13th Regional Corporation and submitted a letter to Ken Krajewski, its Chief Executive Officer with numerous questions.
As many Alaskans are aware, A.N.C.S.A. was established by Congress with the goal of raising the standard of living for Alaska Natives and liberating us from needing to fall onto the welfare rolls by making those who were born before December 18, 1971, shareholders in one of the 13 regional corporations and, if eligible, one of the village corporations. (The village corporations are separate legal entities from those long-ago established village tribes.) It must be pointed out that if an Alaskan Native was born after this date, he or she is not guaranteed any shares other than those that may be inherited. As a result, there are hundreds of young Alaskan Natives who do not own any shares or very little once an inheritance of 100 shares has been divided amongst siblings, nieces and nephews, and grandchildren. A.N.C.S.A. was suppose to create corporations that would, presumably, become profitable and which would distribute dividends to stockholders. Theoretically, being a stockholder would end the vicious cycle of poverty. Although some of these corporations have reached various levels of success, there are some that failed due to lack of appropriate business administration and management education.
Now for a little reality check: My mother, my two sisters, and myself were never enrolled in a village corporation, but we were enrolled in the 13th Regional Corporation, which was established for those Alaska Natives residing outside of Alaska. The 13th was not granted any land under the terms of A.N.C.S.A. and does not share in any mutual fund established for the other 12 regional corporations. Additionally, it was given less money than the other regional corporations. Initially, our family received small disbursements of a few hundred dollars that supported us for a couple of months. During the 1980s, after an episode of embezzlement and gross mismanagement it was forced to file for bankruptcy. My sisters and I were children when this occurred. In 1989, we received a disbursement in the amount of ten dollars. In the late 1990s, we received a disbursement of fifty dollars. Additionally, the 13th Regional Corporation has produced very few jobs for its shareholders!
As a result of the fiasco created by the original operators of the 13th Regional Corporation, my family floundered in abject poverty and became stranded in San Diego, California. Other contributing factors included being raised by a single-mentally ill mother, dead-beat dads, and being stranded in Hispanic Country - where racism perpetrated by Mexicans and White folks disrupted our education and opportunities for jobs. Nevertheless, had the 13th Regional Corporation flourished we would not have had to face so many difficulties and could have relocated back home where the social support system of our tribe would have helped us. Today, according to its "Audited Financial Statements Ending December 31, 2003," the 13th Regional Corporation is still paying off old debts and maintains a deficit in excess of $20,449,810 dollars. It will be a miracle if we get to see another dividend in our lifetime.
So the next time a non-Native sees a young Native nicely dressed, stop and think - don't assume that those clothes were bought with A.N.C.S.A. disbursements, because that assumption may very well be wrong. Remember, Alaskan Native youth were born too late to be granted any stocks in any A.N.S.C.A. created corporation. The next time a non-Native human resources manager contemplates whether to deny an Alaskan Native a job, stop and think - not all Alaskan Natives are wealthy and we don't all get dividends every year. The car and truck that my sister and her husband drive were not bought with any A.N.S.C.A. disbursements, but were bought with regular credit and paid for with wages earned. The next time a non-Native human resource manager contemplates laying off Natives during times of economic down-turns, stop and think - we also have families to support, bills to pay, and medical ailments. Although a tribe may be able to help with a one-time General Assistance grant, not every one qualifies for such assistance. If you see me cruising around town in my little car it was not bought with any A.N.S.C.A. dividends, but was purchased through credit and paid for with my modest salary, which was less than $30,000 a year. My bachelor's degree was paid for with student loans, not A.N.S.C.A. dividends. In conclusion, non-Alaskan Natives need to stop the resentment and envy towards Alaskan Natives. Contrary to popular belief, we do not "have it all."
I hope you will consider publishing
or posting this letter on SitNews in an effort to improve race
relations between non-Natives and Alaskan Natives. The truth
must be told and the myth that many Alaskan Natives are rich
must be shattered in all fairness to those of us who are not
financially well-off despite Congress' good intentions in formulating
the provisions of A.N.S.C.A.
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sitnews.