CARES Act May Pit Tribal Governments Against ANCs for COVID-19 Relief

CARES money for “governments” seems to allow for ANCs to get a piece of the $8 billion set aside for Tribal governments.

For Native governments, the COVID-19 relief legislation known as the CARES Act may have a crucial flaw, and some leaders in Indian Country are racing against the clock to get it fixed. Division A, Title V of the act says that funds will go to states, units of local government, and Tribal governments. States and local government units are clearly and easily defined, but the definition of “Tribal” calls upon another Act:

“Indian tribe” is defined as in section 4(e) of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. 5304(e)).

The text of that legislation (known as the ISDEAA) reads as follows, (emphasis in bold added):

“Indian tribe” means any Indian tribe, band, nation, or other organized group or community, including any Alaska Native village or regional or village corporation as defined in or established pursuant to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (85 Stat. 688) [43 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.]

Broadly speaking, the $150 billion in CARES money is clearly supposed to go to “government” units of one kind or another, and that would include the $8 billion set aside for Tribes. Yet the definition seems to allow for Alaska Native Corporations (or ANCs) to get a piece of the package. Some leaders in Indian Country argue that the definition of “Indian Tribe” the CARES authors have used violates the spirit of the legislation.

The National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) has released a thorough statement of its position: “[We are] deeply troubled that Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) are going to be included as eligible tribal governments for relief.”

“We support funding for Alaska Native village tribal governments included on the Interior Department’s list of federally recognized tribes eligible to receive federal services,” NIGA’s statement continues. “Treasury and BIA must not include state chartered Alaska Native Regional and Village Corporations. … ANCs do not qualify as Indian Tribes because they are not eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to federally recognized Tribal Governments. Only those entities listed on the Interior Department’s annual List of Federally Recognized Tribal Nations are recognized by and eligible to receive, services from the United States Bureau of Indian Affair.”

The NIGA statement asserts that including ANCs as Native governments would essentially steal funding that was meant for Tribal governments. There is already debate on how the money ought to be divided up, with government head-counts being one method on the table.

“[D]istribution of crucial relief funds for tribal governments would be shortchanged by having these funds distributed to entities that provide no governmental services or benefits to tribal members. Furthermore, this would allow for double or triple counting of Alaska Natives due to the fact that there are three layers for each Alaska Native village: federally-recognized Alaska Native village Tribal government; Alaska Native Village Corporation; and Alaska Native Regional Corporation.”

“Depending on the formula Treasury ultimately uses and the factors contained therein, some estimates have Alaska Native Villages and ANC’s consuming up to $4 billion of the $8 billion allocated to Indian Country.”

READ MORE: Gary Davis in USA Today: US Government Must Honor Commitments to Native Americans

Bryan Newland, chairperson of the Bay Mills Indian Community (Ojibwe) in northern Michigan, writes that “ANC’s are for-profit corporations that generate billions of dollars in revenue each year, and answer to individual shareholders, some of which are not Indian. … The Coronavirus Relief Fund should not be used to stabilize – or improve – the returns for shareholders in for-profit corporations at the expense of tribal governments that desperately need money to protect their citizens from a deadly virus.”  

Newland says Indians have seen this kind of jockeying before. “It is always a shame when Indian people must compete with one another for federal funds. It doesn’t need to be this way.”

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