ANCHORAGE - The large number of tribal organizations in Alaska receiving federal money needs to be reduced to cut inefficiency and unfair competition between villages at a time of shrinking congressional funding, Sen. Ted Stevens said.
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Stevens, an Alaska Republican, told a press conference this week that he does not care whether the more than 200 individual village-based tribes in Alaska merge into larger tribes. But for purposes of federal funding, he said, they should form regional groups or set up a statewide committee to funnel money.
He said he plans to introduce legislation to accomplish that and offered to work with Native leaders on developing the new system. Some $500 million a year flows to Alaska tribes every year for social programs, health care and housing.
"What we're seeing is that the very, very poor communities that don't have that ability to hire consultants, to hire grantsmen, people to write applications, they're not getting any assistance," Stevens said.
The issue of tribal consolidation probably will dominate this week's Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Anchorage, federation president Julie Kitka said.
"AFN's bottom line is that whatever decisions are being made that affect our people, there needs to be a role for Native people in the decision making," Kitka said.
Joe Williams of Saxman, vice chairman of the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, said he opposes any regionalization efforts.
"Not as much money will filter down to the villages," he said.
The shift in recent years to direct funding for village tribes has increased the number of jobs in many rural areas, while building up tribal councils and courts in communities that used to have little local governance.
But Stevens told reporters he preferred sending federal funds through regional groups, which is how funding was handled before the Clinton administration granted formal status to 229 village-based Alaska tribes. He used housing programs as an example, saying Alaska now has 80 Native housing agencies compared with single agencies for the Hopi or Navajo tribes.
"We have all these small groups that are now called tribes that are 50 or 100 people," Stevens said. "They're using up all the money in running those entities, not in building houses."
Stevens, the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the problems will grow as funding decreases with growing federal deficits.
Stevens also said the current system favors savvy tribes that are able to assemble appealing grant applications. He complained about use of consultants and "Harvard-trained grantsmanship people."