Editor's note: The Daily News is publishing this commentary in conjunction with UAA's community forum on "The Future of Alaska Native Corporations," Wednesday evening from 7 to 9 p.m. in Room 307 of the Consortium Library.
While the time leading up to the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was marked by great struggle for Alaska Natives, we have come a long way. Prior to 1970, our people faced Third World living conditions. Jobs were few and far between, health care was primitive, public services nonexistent, racial discrimination common and our people's legitimate claims to their ancestral lands were ignored.
ANCSA was a grand social experiment, an alternative to the Lower 48 reservation model, one that embraced Western business practices while recognizing our unique cultures, values and ties to our ancestral lands. ANCSA created the regional and village Native corporations in Alaska today.
Originally, ANCSA brought two key resources to the new corporations: 44 million acres of land and $962.5 million paid over 10 years. While the land and capital resources were critical, it took more time to develop the necessary business capabilities. Some corporations were quick to achieve the necessary business acumen; others took more time.
A critical contribution to our business capability today has been the generation of Alaska Native youths who, under the promise of ANCSA, pursued the education and acculturation necessary to be successful in today's competitive corporate environment. Just as Alaska has changed and matured over the last 35 years, ANCSA corporations have also evolved.
In recent years, many ANCSA corporations have been successful in winning contracting opportunities available through the Small Business Administration's 8(a) program. Over the last 35 years, we have also successfully developed our own timber and mineral resources in Alaska and competed successfully in industries ranging from oil and gas to tourism and telecommunications.
Our success has been Alaska's success. We are key employers to all Alaskans. The employment we provide and our spending with vendors and suppliers has a significant impact on the state's economy. And the dividends we pay further reflect the reversing effect we are having on the Alaska economy. We are earning profits worldwide and returning them to our shareholders, who overwhelmingly live and spend in Alaska.
It is important to note that ANCSA corporations are investing significantly in scholarship programs helping build future business capability in Alaska. And we provide significant support to a variety of nonprofit organizations targeting socioeconomic challenges that continue to confront Alaska Native people.
We are your colleagues, friends and neighbors. The success of ANCSA corporations is something in which all Alaskans can take pride. We are proud to be a vital part of Alaska and its economy.
Sheri Buretta is a former president of the ANCSA Regional Association and is chair of the board of Chugach Alaska Corporation.
By SHERI BURETTA