Alaska Native leaders offer advice about partnerships

Posted: Friday, September 18, 2009

ANCHORAGE - Alaska Native corporations have formed hundreds of partnerships with non-Native firms in many lines of business, from tourism to mining to government contracting, and have shared some of their experience in making those relationships work.

Jerry Isaac of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, Margie Brown of Cook Inlet Region Inc. and Marie Greene of NANA Regional Corp. talked some about oil and gas during the four-day Alaska Oil & Gas Congress in Anchorage this week. But most of what they had to say could be applied to non-Native businesses of any kind.

Isaac, for example, said non-Native firms need to respect Native land ownership and avoid hosting business meetings or consultations during subsistence harvests or funerals. He added that it's not enough for companies hoping to do business on Native land to offer jobs and small contracting opportunities.

He said the companies using the land need to provide substantial contracts and pay rents of fair market value.

The potential for conflict is particularly high when it comes to oil and gas because Alaska Natives need the land to remain unpolluted and wildlife-rich to preserve their way of life.

Greene, NANA's chief executive, said major projects can't occur without extensive consultation with villages. She noted that the massive Red Dog zinc and lead mine didn't happen until after a decade of meetings with Northwest Arctic villages.

As far as offshore oil and gas exploration is concerned, "We can't emphasize it enough. We have a unique environment that supports our subsistence lifestyle," she said. "The ice is an extension of our land. ... There has to be a proven capability for cleanup (of oil spills)."

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