Indian Country, 8(a) Contracting, and Preserving Community

On September 11, 2012, I had the opportunity to travel to Capitol Hill to speak with various legislators about the 8(a) Program, facilitated by the Small Business Administration, and what it means to Native American people and communities. I traveled with other 8(a) impacted Native women and men from Nebraska, South Dakota, Idaho, and Alaska, and spoke with representatives from each of those states.

Our mission was to express, and put faces to stories, on how the 8(a) affects individuals, families, and communities. A member of the Ho-Chunk tribe from Omaha, Nebraska, and works for Ho-Chunk, Inc., is getting the opportunity to move into her own home through a program funded by the Ho-Chunk tribe. Ho-Chunk is able to serve their community with this kind of opportunity because of their 8(a) contracting capabilities and revenue from that.

Countless of us were granted the opportunity to go to college, and graduate, without accruing ginormous and, often times for those living on reservations, stifling debt. In our communities, especially the isolated ones, these opportunities are far too valuable. That’s why the 20 of us represented the Native American Contractors Association on Capitol Hill in efforts to keep any blockade of this (“handout”) program that the opposition feels is unfair. Unsurprising, it’s representatives from states without any Indian Country that feel that this program is unfair.

You know what’s unfair? 

Assuming that all Native American nations need are gaming facilities. Alaskan Native Corporations don’t have that luxury as there isn’t enough sustainability for Class III gaming there. And when these gaming facilities are operational, they’re met with heavy opposition.

You know what’s unfair?

When New York State threatens the sustainability of legally run Class III Gaming Facilities (under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, and threatening 8(a) contracting when we’re not even sure what’s going to come of this standoff.

You know what’s unfair?

Attacking American Indian 8(a) contracting when it makes up less than 1% of all government contracting deals.

You know what’s unfair?

Belittling the countless families who depend on their communities to help get a lift out of the furthest depths of poverty.

My story, which I was met with gracious consideration, isn’t unique, but is an example in community involvement in individual success.

Four years ago, my father passed away. We were fortunate when he was around and making enough money to be comfortable. When he died, it was up to my mother to make ends meet. She traveled an hour, each way, for work with Seneca Construction Management, an 8(a) program. A year later, she also passed away. When that happened, my first-hand experience in what our community does for one another was the burial assistance my sisters and I received to help bury her, next to my father, just 13 months after we laid him to rest. I have been fortunate to receive aid from the Seneca Nation of Indians, which left me without debt after graduating from my four-year program. I am now receiving 90% of my tuition for graduate school, and will be the first in my family to graduate with a master’s degree. Most people may ask me, “why would you care now? Everything is taken care of.” The threat and opposition faced by my nation in this gaming compact cannot be ignored, and I refuse to allow these opportunities pass in the event that my children, and their children, need it. The 8(a) program is an incredible tool that our Nation would fully utilize in making sure that our people are taken care of. That’s what a community should do.”

Now, I didn’t say all of that verbatim with each representative. In fact, this is what I wrote down prior to going into any meeting, and elaborating with each meeting. By elaborate, I mean, I cut it short in my first meeting because my heart tends to lump in my throat when I talk about my parents. C’est la vie. I’m just happy I mustered up the courage to speak about such a subject which was ultimately met with great care by those on the Hill.

That entire experience was necessary, painful, and informative. I was relieved in meeting people who support those in Indian Country, meeting Native Americans in positions of power on the Hill. I learned of the lack of any Native representation in some facets of government. I was told a story of a Superior Court Judge, whose name escapes me, who expressed his contempt of Native American preference by saying, “What’s so special about Indians?” And I didn’t know that there was any opposition to 8(a) programming before meeting with NACA, but now I know that there is and who is against it. I was reaffirmed by Non-Indian representatives that there are definitely racial motivations to some of the opposition. I like to try to believe the best in people, but this helped to reiterate the point that it isn’t always the case. The best in people is just the worst sometimes. 

Traveling to D.C, learning all of this, becoming a better, well-informed citizen, of both the Seneca Nation and of Western New York; all opportunity granted to me by my company. My company that deals primarily in 8(a) contracting.

So, while New York State continues to break their promises, and city mayors continue to make idle threats to the welfare of our businesses and people (and coincidentally, their own citizens), I’m going to continue to help in Holdings’ mission to diversify our economy. I’m going to continue to learn about how to effectively disseminate messages. I’m going to learn about our history, our laws (internally and with the federal and state governments), and our heritage.

Because when people say bad things about me, whatever. But when you speak poorly of the Seneca Nation of Indians as a whole, I take it as an attack against my family, my mother, and people like her.

Back to work…

The only picture I have of me in the mix at the NACA Emerging Native Leaders Summit in Washington D.C.

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