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The Central Council of Tlingit-Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska is doing something few tribal organizations do. This month the Tribes acquired KIRA, Inc., an international maintenance contracting company that has undertaken more than $1 billion in federal contracting work, and KIRA will serve as a prime engine for the Tribes’ economic development program
Tlingit-Haida President Richard Peterson said the ultimate goal is to serve all of their tribal members, and not just those in Southeast Alaska. “It feels somewhat disingenuous to repeatedly say, ‘I’m sorry you live outside of service area, but hey you’re a citizen, thank you,’” Peterson said. Grant money that Tlingit-Haida receives mostly limits its services to Southeast Alaska. The tribe provides educational, employment, elderly and financial assistance for its tribal members. Peterson said half of the tribe’s more than 33,000 members live elsewhere in the state or Seattle. “There’s a misconception out there that we generate funds based on our general enrollment, and we don’t,” he said. “We only generate funds based on the service area enrollment.”
In recent years, Tlingit-Haida has made an active push to generate unrestricted funds by creating a separate company, Tlingit Haida Tribal Business Corp., or THTBC. Last year, the Small Business Administration certified the company for special government contracting status under its 8(a) program. Alaska Native corporations have long used the program to win federal contracts, but it’s unusual for tribes. Congress created the 8(a) certification decades ago to help small and minority-owned businesses win federal contracts. Special provisions were added in 1986 for federally recognized Native American and Alaska Native corporations — they can outgrow “small” status but continue to enjoy the program’s benefits.
Carlos Garcia is KIRA’s founder and president. It was once 8(a) certified, too, but outgrew the program. KIRA will now have those small business contracting opportunities again. “We were only allowed to bid on a small percentage of them,” Garcia said. “We wanted to bid and the only thing that was missing was the certifications that the tribe enjoys.”
The acquisition of KIRA became official after about a year of negotiations. Garcia said he decided to sell to Tlingit-Haida instead of an Alaska Native corporation to ensure the profits directly benefited shareholders. “The money that we make is going to go straight to their tribal members. Many of these large ANCs have enormous bureaucracy in Anchorage and the money goes to those executives,” he said. “And there doesn’t seem to be a lot of profit put forth to the Native programs.”
THTBC’s CEO Richard Rinehart says one of the goals is to have KIRA compete in Alaska’s market. “KIRA has not competed a lot in Alaska because there’s so many Alaska-based corporations that have an advantage,” Rinehart said. “Well now they’ll be able to.” In the coming weeks, Garcia said KIRA will add on multiple new contracts. He believes that if everyone works hard, the company — and its profits — will multiply quickly.