Tlingit-Haida Tribes Acquire Billion-Dollar International Contracting Firm

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.

Opposition Grows Against Bar Association Proposal To Ban Indigenous Blessings At Legal Conferences

Native prayer gathering at United States Supreme Court (

Opposition Grows Against Bar Association Proposal To Ban Indigenous Blessings At Legal Conferences

The Washington State Bar Association is considering a proposal that would curtail or eliminate blessings and spiritual invocations at Continuing Legal Education seminars and related events attended by legal professionals.  It is common for such seminars that focus on Indigenous legal issues to be commenced with a blessing that gives thanks for the gathering and asking for wisdom and positive learning.

Within the WSBA itself, strong opposition to the proposal has been voiced by the members of the Indian Law Section, the members of which are legal professionals who work primarily in and for tribal communities.  The Indian Law Section’s letter to the WSBA Board of Governors can be accessed.

A statement in support of the Indian Law Section’s letter was sent by Greg Guedel, Chair of the American Bar Association’s Committee on Native American Concerns:

Dear Members of the WSBA Board of Governors:

I am writing in support of the 20 June 2016 letter from the WSBA Indian Law Section opposing the proposed WSBA policy that would effectively eliminate blessings and spiritual invocations during CLEs and related events. I too believe that banning blessings is inappropriate and would be an over-step that is not warranted by a current or prospective problem. For comparative purposes, as Chair of the American Bar Association’s Committee on Native American Concerns for the past six years I note that our CLEs and other events related to Indigenous issues typically begin with a blessing, and I have observed no negative impacts on the programs nor any complaints from our members and attendees nationwide. Indeed, in my opinion commencing these events with a traditional blessing creates an environment of solemn focus that contributes positively to the learning environment.

Institutions of governance in our country have a long and tragic history of infringing upon the religious rights of Indigenous peoples. Banning Native American religious ceremonies, imprisoning spiritual leaders, and attempting to forcibly convert Native children to government-sanctioned faiths through boarding schools are among the litany of oppressions that have been reasonably described as cultural genocide. Although these destructive actions were clearly unconstitutional and were brutal violations of basic human rights, they were all taken “under color of law” by governmental institutions. Today, the legal profession needs to view preserving the religious rights of Indigenous peoples as a matter requiring broad and consistent remedial action. Taking away the ability to make a spiritual statement at a WSBA event would be a step in the wrong direction – preserving the right of Indigenous peoples to speak as the Constitution allows would be the correct step.

I greatly appreciate your consideration of these issues, and am grateful for your service to our profession and community.


W. Gregory Guedel, Ph.D., J.D.
Chair, Native American Legal Services

Canada Launches Inquiry Into Violence Against Indigenous Women

Canada has launched an investigation into missing and murdered Indigenous women that will last at least two years with a budget of up to $54m. Five independent commissioners will provide recommendations to deal with violence against the country’s indigenous women. The five commissioners are Marion Buller, British Columbia’s first female First Nations judge; Michele Audette, a former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada; Qajaq Robinson, a Nunavut-born lawyer who focuses on aboriginal law; Marilyn Poitras, a law professor at the University of Saskatchewan; and Brian Eyolfson, a First Nations lawyer who served on the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. The investigation is set to begin in September and will run through 2018.

Each province in Canada has agreed to allow the commissioners to look at all jurisdictions, including whether local law enforcement or governments played a part in the problems Indigenous women experience in securing personal safety and justice. The commission will also have the authority to summon witnesses to testify. The investigation is expected to focus on the systemic causes of violence against Indigenous women as well as recommendations on prevention.

A 2015 United Nations report revealed that young indigenous women in Canada were five times more likely to die under violent circumstances than non-Aboriginal women. Families of victims have argued that police do not investigate missing indigenous women with the same scrutiny for cases involving white women.

Congress Seeks To Rectify “Embarrassment” Of Inadequate Columbia River Tribal Housing

Bonneville Dam

When the Bonneville Dam was constructed in 1938, the resulting expansion of waters behind the dam displaced dozens of Native American families from their homes along the Columbia River, their ancestral fishing area. For many, adequate funds and sites for new housing were not forthcoming. The lack of housing for tribal members along the river is a problem that has persisted for decades, but new legislation in Congress, sponsored by senators from Washington and Oregon, would fund basic sanitation and restart studies on potential housing solutions.

“I believe it is critical for there to be safe, reliable housing along the Columbia River so treaty tribes can exercise their protected rights,” Sen. Patty Murray said in a statement. “Salmon fishing is an integral part of the Native American legacy, and this legislation aims to make long-overdue improvements to tribal fishing access rights while we work on the longer-term need for additional housing. This is an important step toward honoring tribal rights.” Paul Lumley, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), which represents the Yakama, Umatilla, Warm Springs, and Nez Perce on fisheries issues, is optimistic congressional and tribal leaders will develop housing solutions soon. In the meantime, CRITFC is doing what it can to maintain the sites as part of its mission to provide access to the fishery. “The community needs help, they really do,” Lumley said. “They just want the most basic services, water, sewer. It’s sad actually, they’ve practically given up on the dream of village replacements after all these years.”

A 2013 study commissioned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found evidence that at least 45 families were displaced by the rising waters behind Bonneville Dam and never compensated, along with about 30 more displaced by construction of the Dalles Dam two decades later. The tribes say that report significantly underestimates how many families were impacted. Corps treaty fishing-access-program manager Eric Stricklin said there wasn’t much discussion about replacement housing or compensation for lost property with tribal leaders when the dam was under construction. “What I’ve been able to figure out is during the construction of Bonneville, there was some negotiation with the tribes and it resulted in the 1939 agreement in which tribes really focused on fishing access, that was paramount,” Stricklin said.

If Congress provides funds for the construction of new homes for those displaced by Bonneville Dam, allocation could be complicated. “Would they give houses to the families that were here then or the people who are here now?” said Yakama fisherman Will Zack. In the meantime, nearly 70 people are living around the access site where he cleans and sells fish, in tents, RVs and illegal makeshift shelters. CRITFC sponsored a site cleanup, tearing down illegal structures and hauling out trash. There is a new law enforcement presence to combat drug activity in what was for years a lawless land, under no specific local or tribal jurisdiction. CRITFC’s efforts have made made a big improvement, Lumley said, but the fishing-focused organization can’t really tackle the housing crisis. He’s hopeful an ongoing conversation between the Columbia River tribes about creating an intertribal housing and economic-development agency will come to fruition and bring further progress.

Center for Indian Law and Policy Welcomes Brooke Pinkham as Staff Director

Attorney Brooke Pinkham has joined the Center for Indian Law and Policy at Seattle University School of Law as the new Staff Director. A member of the Nez Perce tribe who grew up within the community of the Yakama Nation in south central Washington, Brooke brings a lifelong commitment to Native American people and tribes.

Brooke joins Seattle University School of Law after spending nine years as a staff attorney with the Northwest Justice Project, a non-profit law firm dedicated to providing equal access to the law, where she provided direct representation and advocacy on behalf of tribal members throughout Washington. She most recently served as a guest lecturer for the law school’s Incarcerated Parents Advocacy Clinic on the topic of the Indian Child Welfare Act. She has particular expertise in Indian estate planning and probate, enforcing application of the Indian Child Welfare Act, protecting the rights to secure housing, tribal and non-tribal public benefits, and the education rights of Native American students.

Brooke has served on the boards for the National Native American Law Students Association, the Washington State Bar Association Indian Law Section, and the Northwest Indian Bar Association. She is a recent graduate of the Washington Leadership Institute, a nationally recognized and comprehensive leadership program. Prior to attending the University of Washington School of Law, she worked for United Indians of All Tribes Foundation, a Seattle-area non-profit founded to provide educational, cultural and social services for indigenous people in the Puget Sound region. Brooke joins the CILP staff team of Faculty Director Gregory Silverman, Staff Attorney Guadalupe Ceballos, and Senior Attorney Erica Wolf.