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FAIRBANKS - Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young are warning Alaska Natives that efforts are under way to get rid of contracting privileges given to Native corporations.
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Sevens and Young brought up the issue Friday while addressing the Alaska Federation of Natives convention that ended Saturday in Fairbanks.
Both promised to fight efforts to do away with a Small Business Administration program allowing Native corporations and their subsidiaries to compete against much larger companies for federal contracts and receive certain no-bid contracts with government agencies. Critics describe the federal rules as special benefits for Alaska Natives.
Young, R-Alaska, said the benefits are appropriate. He said contracting by Native corporations was a multibillion-dollar industry that brought more money into the state's economy than even the oil and gas industry. He said he has fought and will continue to fight against those trying to take the privileges away.
Stevens, R-Alaska, said he also was working to keep the contracting opportunities available. Efforts in Congress to eliminate them are "the most serious problem" Alaska Natives will face in the year ahead, he said.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, addressed the convention Saturday. She promised to continue to work to resolve issues facing the Native community, such as subsistence, violence, education and suicide rates.
"We will work together to find new solutions to challenges like coastal erosion and climate change," Murkowski said. "And we will get to the bottom of why cancer rates in the American Indian and Alaska Native communities are rising, when they are falling nearly everyplace else."