Central Council seeks revenue to expand programs

Richard Peterson, Tlingit-Haida Central Council president, addresses the closing banquet during April's 81st tribal assembly in Juneau. (Photo courtesy Tlingit-Haida Central Council)
Richard Peterson, Tlingit-Haida Central Council president, addresses the closing banquet during April’s 81st tribal assembly in Juneau. (Photo courtesy Tlingit-Haida Central Council)

Southeast Alaska’s largest tribal organization wants to expand its service programs. Part of the effort could be funded by profits from a business it’s about to purchase.

The Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska lists more than 33,000 members.

President Richard Peterson said some don’t get enough attention.

“We divide ourselves and say, ‘They live in Seattle. Why should we serve them?’ Or ‘They’re living in the village. Why do we care?’ We are Tlingit and Haida people. That’s why we care,” he said.

Programs include financial assistance, child care, occupational training, vocational rehabilitation and case management.

But Peterson said most programs reach only part of Southeast Alaska. He and other Central Council officials want that to change.

“We need to create our own income, our own revenue streams that allow us to do what we want with our funds and serve who we want with our funds, wherever they live.”

That income would come from a business purchased by the council.

Richard Rinehart of the Tlingit Haida Tribal Business Corp. said one was identified, but it didn’t meet the corporation’s goals.

“The board wanted something that was more strategic, something that had more possibilities for growth in the future. And we were able to find one that is national in scale, they have a national presence, and that we believe we can grow, double (or) triple the size in a relatively short period of time,” Rinehart said.

He said that growth would come because a Native-owned, small business gets a preference when bidding for federal contracts. Many Alaska Native corporations use what’s called the 8(a) program to raise revenue.

Rinehart wouldn’t identify the business because of a non-disclosure agreement with the seller. He said an announcement could come this month.

Central Council President Peterson said goals include improved services to veterans and turning its vocational training program into a tribal college.

He also said it’s time to expand Tlingit language programs to include Haida and Sm’álgyax, the Tsimshian language.

“We have to hold each other up. We can’t say this language versus that language. We have to have equality there,” he said.

The Tlingit-Haida Central Council gained authority in March over foster care and some other state services for Native children in the region.

Peterson told tribal assembly delegates that’s an important step toward sovereignty.

“Our families are hurting. They’re broken. The power isn’t in the state to restore our families. It’s within us. And we need them to get out of our way to do so,” he said

The new authority will help the council place Native children in Native foster homes. A separate court decision told the state to recognize child support orders issued by tribal courts.

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