Shareholder 101

Photo by Chris Arend.
Photo by Chris Arend.

Is CIRI considered a tribe? If you’re enrolled in a tribe, does that make you a shareholder? Is a tribe a village? The differences between tribes, villages and corporations can be difficult to figure out. And each term can have a variety of definitions, depending on which source you consult.

Generally, “tribe” refers to a Federally Recognized Tribe. The Bureau of Indian Affairs defines a Federally Recognized Tribe as “an American Indian or Alaska Native tribal entity that is recognized as having a government-to-government relationship with the United States, with the responsibilities, powers, limitations and obligations attached to that designation.”

Of course, the reality of what constitutes a tribe is more complex than this definition. Tribes are sovereign – they can determine their own membership criteria (usually based on blood quantum and community affiliation) – and make their own laws. An individual who is enrolled in a tribe may not necessarily be enrolled as a shareholder of an ANCSA village corporation or a regional corporation, but frequently a tribal member is also a shareholder of a regional and/or village corporation.

The term “village” is sometimes used interchangeably with “tribe.” For example, the legal definition of “Native village” under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) refers to “any tribe, band, clan, group, village, community or association in Alaska listed in [ANCSA…]” that meets certain requirements laid out by ANCSA, such as being composed of 25 or more Alaska Native individuals. Additionally, the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 allowed tribes and villages to organize into tribal governments as a way to decrease Federal control.

A “village corporation” is different from a village. ANCSA created both regional and village corporations. A village corporation is a “business for profit or nonprofit corporation to hold, invest, manage and/ or distribute lands, property, funds and other rights and assets for and on behalf of a Native village in accordance with [ANCSA].” The term “Alaska Native corporation” can refer to either a regional or village corporation. ANCSA also defines “group corporation” and “urban corporation,” which are similar to village corporations, except that they apply to established Native groups and urban communities of Alaska Native people, respectively.

CIRI is an ANCSA regional corporation. Like the other 11 regional corporations, CIRI is a for-profit business that represents shareholders with ties to the Cook Inlet region; it makes investments and acts as the steward of its lands on behalf of its shareholders. CIRI is not a tribe. However, under certain Federal laws, CIRI is entitled to obtain Federal funds that are also available to tribes.

Though defining words can often help us better understand a concept, it’s important to remember that when it comes to determining identity or membership, the right to do so belongs not to the state or any other outside entity, but to indigenous peoples themselves.

Sources: www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/43/1602; www.bia.gov/FAQs; www.genetics.ncai.org/tribalsovereignty- and-enrollment-determinations.cfm.  The term “village” is sometimes used interchangeably with “tribe.” For example, the legal definition of “Native village” under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) refers to “any tribe, band, clan, group, village, community or association in Alaska listed in [ANCSA…]” that meets certain requirements laid out by ANCSA.

Disclaimer: Shareholder 101 is a new column intended to help answer common questions shareholders and descendants might have. It is in no way intended to be a thorough exploration of each topic; instead, it’s meant to provide general information only. For additional information, visit the CIRI website. Have a question for Shareholder 101? Submit it to [email protected]