Tribal council members break ground on the Ma-Chis Lower Creek Indian Tribe of Alabama’s new tribal complex and church in Elba, Ala., in 2012. (Jason Johnson / Southeast Sun)

LA Times: Two tribes aren’t recognized federally. Yet members won $500 million in minority contracts

By Adam ElmahrekPaul Pringle Dec. 31, 2019 5:54 PM

Companies set up by members of a self-described and state-recognized Creek Indian tribe in Alabama have received more than $240 million in federal minority-business contracts, despite a determination by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs that there is no credible evidence the group has Native American ancestry, a Los Angeles Times investigation has found.

Federal contracts worth an additional $273 million have gone to two companies run by a member of a different Native American group in Alabama with no federal recognition as a tribe.

The ability of company owners with questionable Native American identity to obtain more than half a billion dollars in taxpayer funded minority-business contracts reflects a nationwide failure by agencies overseeing programs set up decades ago to help socially and economically disadvantaged minority groups.

Including the Alabama outlays, The Times has found more than $800 million in federal contracts awarded to companies whose owners made unsubstantiated claims to be Native American, although the total is almost certainly higher. The contracts were for construction, computing and other projects in 27 states, including California.

Federally recognized Native American tribes, and other racial and ethnic minorities are the losers.

A Times analysis of Small Business Administration contracts found Native American companies are often overrepresented compared with other minority groups. But the disparity is particularly stark in Alabama, where Native Americans comprise less than 1% of the state’s population but Native American businesses were awarded more than $2 billion through the SBA’s minority program since late 2007.

By comparison, while African Americans make up 26% of the state’s population, black businesses in Alabama received about $827 million in minority business contracts, the records show. Black business owners in Alabama say they struggle to compete against Native American companies, and suspect many are owned by whites.

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