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The Alaska Native Village Corporation Association
By Marleah Makpiaq LaBelle

n 2011, the Alaska Native Village Corporation Association (ANVCA) was founded by The Kuskokwim Corporation, also known as TKC, a group of ten village corporations in the middle region of the Kuskokwim River that merged together in 1977. Today, there are 176 village corporations in Alaska that are de facto members of ANVCA.

“ANVCA promotes the success of our village corporations and protection of our Native lands,” according to the nonprofit’s mission statement.

TKC had the vision and the foresight to create ANVCA and was the association’s first member, providing office space for the organization during startup.

As many organizations do, it struggled in its infancy. ANVCA heavily relied on dues-paying members as its main source of revenue, an activity that didn’t gain traction. Adding to the financial strain, some members of ANVCA thought TKC might wield special interests and overshadow other members as the founder. The ANVCA board of directors deliberated and ultimately decided to separate the two organizations in 2017.

While separating from TKC provided some political stability within its members, it also created a huge loss of revenue. The unanticipated loss resulted in ANVCA borrowing money from its members to continue to operate.

When ANVCA detached from TKC, it was reimagined and revamped under new leadership. Initially the association hired Hallie Bissett as a contract employee working part-time; today Bissett is the executive director of ANVCA.

ANVCA changed its funding strategy and built relationships with sponsors. “The organization went from negative $30,000 to nearly $500,000 in revenue, which is a huge change in five years, so I’m really proud of that,” Bissett says.

ANVCA Advocacy
Each year, members of ANVCA travel to Juneau and Washington, D.C. to meet with state and federal legislators and conduct advocacy work for their Legislative Fly-Ins.

Most recently, the association spent much time and attention on the US Supreme Court case, Yellen v. Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation. The case challenged the inclusion of Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and by doing so, challenged the tribal status of ANCs. The case was resolved in June 2021, with the US Supreme Court ruling in favor of ANCs, finding them eligible for the $8 billion reserved for tribal governments.

“When you think about ANCs, we are really the first corporate, socially responsible businesses out there,” says Bissett. “We coined that term and we live that term; 30 percent or more of our net profits go right back into the community. Whether it’s scholarships, culture camps, death benefits—there really is no corporation like the ones we represent here. These are community owned development corporations. That’s what they are and that’s what they do.”

The early advocacy work that ANVCA was primarily known for was on contaminated Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) lands. When lands were conveyed to ANCs, the corporations were unaware that some of the lands encompassed contaminated sites. The contaminants of concern included arsenic, asbestos, explosives, lead, mercury, pesticides, and polychlorinated biphenyls and were byproducts of abandoned military sites from World War II and the Cold War.

“When you think about ANCs, we are really the first corporate, socially responsible businesses out there. We coined that term and we live that term; 30 percent or more of our net profits go right back into the community… there really is no corporation like the ones we represent here.”
Hallie Bissett, Executive Director, Alaska Native Village Corporation Association
ANVCA, alongside ANCs, state and federal agencies, and other stakeholders, completed a report to Congress on contaminated ANCSA lands in 2016. The report identified more than 1,100 contaminated sites in ANCSA lands that would cost an estimated $6 billion to clean up.

“ANVCA partnered with companies like Waste Management. Waste Management financially supported ANVCA and joined us in meetings on Capitol Hill,” Bissett says.

The advocacy effort also championed removing ANCs’ legal and financial liability for the cleanup of the contaminated sites. Previously, provisions through the US Environmental Protection Agency made private land owners responsible, including tribal entities under ANCSA.

ANVCA continues to go to Washington, D.C. to advocate for ANCs to receive viable, uncontaminated lands and to receive funding to clean up the contaminated sites that have long been threatening their communities.

Another success ANVCA advocated for was the Department of Defense’s spending cap increase from $20 million to $100 million for sole source government contracting. Previously the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program, for preferential contracting with businesses owned by tribes, ANCs, and Native Hawaiian organizations, had received less than 1 percent of all Department of Defense spending.

Additionally, ANVCA supported a provision in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that allowed ANCs to transfer cash or revenue to their settlement trusts pre-tax, which in turn allowed for tax-free dividend distributions to their shareholders.

ANVCA Activities
Another activity of ANVCA is its Fishnet Lunches, which is a version of brown bag “lunch and learn” sessions. Fishnet Lunches are monthly events that can provide business training for association members on a wide range of business-related topics, including accounting and finance, laws and regulations, compliance training, and federal contracting.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, ANVCA offered virtual trainings on topics such as the federal vaccine mandate, since a number of member corporations are federal contractors. The trainings are typically geared for the presidents and CEOs of the village corporations, but the public trainings are open to any village corporation employee.

The other focal activity of ANVCA is their annual meeting and business conference. It is an exclusive two-day conference where one of the main objectives is for the boards and executives of ANCs to collaborate and share best practices. Similar to the Fishnet Lunches, there are business training sessions that provide information on topics for village corporations that can allow them to grow their investments, diversify portfolios, and ultimately increase revenues.

The lunches and the conference not only provide timely information for village corporations but also are important to keep all 176 village corporations and 12 regional corporations in constant communication and aware of all of what lies ahead.

ANVCA Priorities
Statewide Priorities
  • Urging the State of Alaska to adopt legislation that would amend State law regarding the disposition of ANC shares
  • Restore the Education Tax Credit to 100 percent for up to $300,000 of dollar-to-dollar educational contributions
  • Amend Title 29 or 3 AAC 190.110 to require the Local Boundary Commission to obtain explicit consent via board resolution from existing Alaska Native corporations (village and regional) within the proposed boundaries of a municipality or borough
  • Allow affected communities the opportunity to exclude or opt out existing private lands and other assets from any proposed new borough or municipality
  • Provide for a process for Appropriate Village Entities to opt out of future boroughs or municipalities and retain these lands
  • Develop a standard operating procedure at the State level to return 14(c)(3) lands to Appropriate Village Entities
Federal Priorities
  • 3 percent of all royalties from the 10-02 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will be shared with Alaska Native corporations
  • Swap undesirable ANCSA lands with unencumbered federal property
  • Adopt mitigation clean-up credits and tax credits for clean-up activities on ANCSA lands
  • Require a minimum of bi-annual agency reporting on the status of clean-up on ANCSA lands
  • Provide Native contractor preference for clean-up on Native lands
  • Ensure that Alaska Native corporations are included in investing and service opportunities for major public infrastructure projects
  • Urge Congress to provide automatic eligibility for tribes, tribal Entities, and Alaska Native corporations into the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program
  • Protect Native 8(a) contracting and support increased opportunities for ANC economic development
  • Develop solution to require contracting floor (goals) within tier 1 government contracts and make sure these are enforced via audit
  • Amend section 14 c(3) of ANCSA to include language requiring the State of Alaska to reconvey any lands under subsection 14 C (3) without restrictions
Challenges and Opportunities
The forefront concern for ANVCA now is the vast projected loss in revenue from Section 7(i) and 7(j) of ANCSA. Section 7(i) of ANCSA requires the regional corporations to share 70 percent of their revenue earned from resource development (e.g. timber and subsurface natural resources) with other regional corporations. Section 7(j) of ANCSA requires the regional corporations to provide half of the shared revenue with village corporations. Right now, most of the revenue for 7(i) and 7(j) comes from Red Dog Mine in the Northwest Arctic, on NANA Corporation land. Teck Resources, the company that operates the zinc mine, projects mining to be depleted by 2032.

A large majority of village corporations rely on 7(j). Bissett says, “Our number one issue is this cliff that’s coming. That money goes away in less than ten years and there is currently nothing in place to replace it. Providing training for our members to prepare for this loss in revenue is going to be our main focus in the coming year.”

The federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act contains some opportunities for ANCs and tribes, such as collaboration and partnership to bring broadband internet and fiber connections to rural Alaska. ANVCA anticipates working to ensure that the village corporations and tribes apply for these grant opportunities, which will involve working with grant writers and stakeholders—and ensuring the village corporations and tribes are not taken advantage of. ANVCA has many opportunities and challenges ahead, according to Bissett. “We need to get back to working together,” she says. “We’re going to continue to see efforts to separate Alaska Native people from the tribes in the Lower 48, and wrongly so. ANVCA has established themselves as a recognizable political voice of the Alaska Native People. We need to deliver more on our member benefits and get them where they need to be.”