This commentary is in response to a Civil Beat story published last week, Native Hawaiian Firms Could Lose Out In Fed Budget Amendment.

I wonder why Senator McCain is targeting Native Hawaiian! The Indian Incentive Program applies to Native Alaska companies and Indian Country as well. Yet he targets Native Hawaiians.

The Indian Incentive Act was created to provide prime contractors an option to use native companies as sub contractors. It created an incentive to use native companies. As we know Native Americans are among the poorest people in our country and this program was not intended to be a hand out program but rather a hand up program. Creating jobs and economic engines for Native Americans.

Native Americans (American Indians, Native Alaskans and Native Hawaiians) absolutely should be provided preferred programs to create economic engines and jobs! This has always been a role of our government to even the playing field for those that need help. We have incentive programs for Women Owned Companies, Service Disabled Veterans Owned Companies, HUBZone Companies, therefore, why would we not provide opportunities for Native People as well. This country has a moral obligation to help Native People to be competitive, have meaningful jobs, and become better educated.

Yet as Native American, we love this country, and we embrace it as a great democracy. We have served in its military to defend what it stands for in every conflict since its founding; and we will continue to do so, proudly and honorably.

But Native Americans communities continue to be the most impoverished in the nation. Nine of the 10 poorest communities in the country are home to Native American. Clearly, we have been left behind.

The initiative under review by Congress, the Small Business Administration Native 8(a) program and the Indian Incentive Program, is one of the most successful business development programs in decades. It is creating for the first time a business pathway that represents our best hope to economic development and a pathway to economic self-sufficiency.

Today, Senator McCain is trying to advance legislation to restrict and threaten the very existence of the Native programs. He has confused community enterprise with that of being a hand out. Native programs are not tasked with elevating the economic status of a single owner or a few partners. These programs are our best tools for advancing social, cultural and economic well-being, while kindling a business approach to achieving these goals.

Indeed, our participation is barely a blip on the screen of all federal contracts. To speak of restricting and limiting Native Hawaiian the opportunities to reach higher is unbecoming of Senator McCain.

We must not return to the dark days. Native American have lived through centuries of misguided policies that failed to understand our strength and abilities, failed to respect our contribution to a great country, and failed to embrace our hopes and dreams for our cultures, our elders and our youths. The result has been extraordinary and unnecessary destruction.

Many policymakers understand the history of our Native Americans, our priorities and our goals of engaging American business tools to serve community needs when they established the SBA Native 8(a) program. From both sides of the aisle, these policy leaders got it exactly right, to create a business pathway for our tribes and community enterprises to more fully participate in the national economy.

We all know the history of treaties with my people — promises made and subsequently broken. Today, we face astronomical odds as we struggle to overcome poverty, educational and social issues.

But history does not have to repeat itself. The choice is clear: Congress can set a good example by demonstrating, through action, that our federal government honors its word — and keeps its promise to our native people — by expanding, not restricting, the Native 8(a) program. Now is the time when we should be strengthening, not weakening, one of the best business development programs available to Native Americans.

About the author: Ray Jardine started his Army career as an enlisted soldier serving for nearly 33 years retiring as a Colonel. He is the Chairman and CEO of Native Hawaiian Veterans LLC, Chairman of the Kina’ole Foundation a 501(c)(3), serves on the American Legion Small Business Task Force, VA Advisors Committee for Minority Veterans, former Vice Chair of the National Veterans Business Development Corporate, and past President of the Native Hawaiian Organizations Association. Dr. Jardine is a finalist for the National Small Business Lew Shattuck Advocate of the Year for 2013.

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