Tracing Development from the Frontier: The Rise of Alaska Native Corporations in Government Contracting

Authors: Mia Bennett*,
Topics: Indigenous Peoples, Development, Polar Regions
Keywords: Indigenous peoples, Alaska, corporations, capitalism, entrepreneurialism, land claims
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 2:35 PM / 4:15 PM
Room: 8201, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The 1971 Alaska Native Settlement Claims Act established 13 Alaska Native Regional Corporations and over 200 Alaska Native village corporations. Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) manage their businesses, lands and resources, and finances to benefit the Alaska Natives they represent, known as "shareholders." Several ANCs have transformed into corporations with global reach. The biggest, Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, has nearly as many employees (12,000) as shareholders (13,000), with offices worldwide. The expansion of ANCs is partly due to Alaska Native leaders' entrepreneurialism. Yet it also emerges from ANCs' ability to leverage the 8(a) Business Development Program, a U.S. federal government initiative to assist businesses majority-owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals by awarding government contracts without bidding competitions. The success of ANCs and their subsidiaries in obtaining billions of dollars in government contracts for activities ranging from clean water provisioning in South America to developing U.S. Navy missile systems suggests a need to critically rethink how development relates to Indigenous peoples. Occasionally, they can reconfigure existing political and economic structures that generally work against their favor to their advantage, even if in limited ways. To conceptualize development processes originating "from the frontier," using government data on ANC contracts, I address two questions: First, what are the main patterns in ANC 8(a) contracting? Second, what contradictions exist between ANCs' contracts and their goals of promoting sustainable and equitable development? Answers to these questions will provide theoretical and empirical insights into Indigenous entrepreneurialism under late capitalism and the “right to development.”

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