Companies established by members of a state-recognized Creek Indian tribe in Alabama were awarded more than $240 million in federal contracts even though the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs found no evidence that they were of indigenous background, according to an investigation by the Los Angeles Times.
Two companies run by a member of a different Alabama group that has not obtained federal recognition secured another $273 million, according to the Times. In both cases, the money came from federal minority business contracts.
The Times’ investigation determined that at least $800 million in federal contracts were awarded to companies headquartered in 27 states and owned by people making undocumented claims of Native American heritage, with industries ranging from construction to computing.
The contracts have come at the expense of federally-recognized Native Americans and other minorities, according to the Times.
For instance, the investigation found that while African Americans are about 26 percent of Alabama’s population, Alabama-based, black-owned businesses received about $827 million in minority business contracts compared to businesses owned by Native Americans – or those claiming to be – which were awarded more than $2 billion over the last 12 years, despite comprising less than 1 percent of the state’s population.
Part of the reason businesses are able to secure contracts without substantiating their owners’ Native American status is that the Small Business Administration treats state and federal recognition of a tribe as co-equal, even as many Native American groups have opposed state recognition of tribes, saying the screening process is insufficient.
There are nine state-recognized tribes in Alabama, but according to the Times, the Bureau of Indian Affairs only recognizes one: the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which has frequently blasted the claims of the other eight tribes.
“They found a loophole,” Brenda Golden, an attorney and citizen of Oklahoma’s Muscogee (Creek) Nation, a federally recognized tribe, told the Times in reference to the Alabama groups.
“They’re profiting off the misery of our ancestors.”