VIDEO REMARKS: Alaska Native Village Corp. Association Annual Conference
Good day, and thank you for the opportunity to speak to you at your 7th annual meeting of the Alaska Native Village Corporation Association. I would rather be in Anchorage with you today, but given the Senate’s schedule, unfortunately that isn’t possible. So let me give you a quick update from DC.
Last year, the Senate had a number of achievements. We fully funded Contract Support Costs for tribally-run federal programs, adding $70 million a year for IHS hospitals and Joint Ventures in Alaska. We passed the Sealaska lands bill to finally complete their land conveyance in Southeast. We passed legislation to allow Wainwright villagers to gain a key economic development site for the future. That’s good progress but we have much more to do.
We must address the contamination of Native lands conveyed by the federal government to regional and village corporations in settlement of your ANCSA aboriginal land claims. The whole purpose of the claims settlement act was to convey valuable lands to your corporations – lands that you could utilize to improve the lives of Alaska Natives.
But in far too many cases, Native corporations have been stymied in their efforts to utilize lands because of the pollution left behind by the federal government. In fact, the State of Alaska currently lists 650 sites as contaminated.
In Dutch Harbor, the Ounalashka Corporation is concerned that they will be forced either by the EPA or the state to spend resources to clean up the messes that they did not cause. Furthermore, the Natives of Kodiak are faced with a fight over cleanup efforts that have effectively rendered property near downtown Kodiak worthless.
This is not a new problem. Seventeen years ago, Congress first raised this issue with the Department of the Interior. And an “action plan” to address Native land contamination was proposed. It turned out to be a non-action plan. I have been pushing this issue with Interior Secretary Jewell and have demanded that they address the cleanup of these contaminated lands.
BLM has confirmed that they are updating the list of contaminated lands – only the first step to actually solving the problem—but we have yet to see it.
I continue to press BLM on the cleanup list and more importantly, what the government is planning to do to marshal the financial resources needed for a cleanup of all sites to make your lands fully usable.
While I hear that agencies, including the military, recently met to formulate better cleanup plans, I, like you, continue to await details. But all of us are running out of patience. Know that I am actively looking for ways to get federal agencies to honor their moral, if not legal commitments, more quickly to address the contamination on your lands.
Another issue I know you are following intently is how potential changes in federal 8(a) contracting rules may impact your businesses. I see that you intend to devote an entire workshop to that topic. I’ll just say here that your Congressional Delegation will continue to work to make sure that your firms are not singled out for unfair treatment in revision of 8(a) contracting regulations. Some members of Congress forget the benefits that Alaska Natives have gained from 8(a) contracting – and also the benefits that the federal government has received from your firm’s efforts on its behalf.
Recently we’ve seen attempts to criticize 8(a) again, partially as a result of some FCC complaints about frequency auction activities. This is an area that we all will have to watch very closely in coming months.
There are many other issues we are working to advance on behalf of our Alaska Native people, including legislation to correct an injustice done to the Alaska Native residents of Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Tenakee and Haines by giving these “landless” villages the ability to form urban Native corporations.
And I will continue to explore ways to provide revenue sharing for coastal communities from outer continental shelf oil and natural gas production efforts.
I thank you for your leadership across your many regions as you advocate for your village corporations and people. I wish all of you productive sessions at this annual meeting. Thank you.