Tribal CARES Money Delayed as Lawsuit Pends to Bar ANCs From Funding

A decision on whether or not Alaska Native Corporations will share in the $8 billion Tribal set aside money as part of the CARES Act still hangs in the balance. A CARES Act hearing took place this morning, and a federal judge has ordered the Trump administration to submit its opposition by 5 p.m. Eastern.

Eleven Tribes are plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin. The six original plaintiffs are the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation and the Tulalip Tribes, located in Washington state; the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, in Maine; and the Akiak Native Community, Asa’carsarmiut Tribe and Aleut Community of St. Paul Island, in Alaska. 

READ MORE: 6 Tribes Sue Treasury Secretary Mnuchin to Stop Tribal CARES Funding to ANCs

The Navajo Nation, Quinault Indian Nation, Pueblo of Picuris, San Carlos Apache Tribe and Elk Valley Rancheria joined the suit Tuesday. 

“We, along with other federally-recognized tribes, aggressively advocated for Tribal funding to be included in the CARES Act and now we must continue fighting to keep what was allocated for us. Alaska Native Corporations are for-profit entities that have billions of dollars in revenue, and can access other funding sources in the CARES Act. The Congressional intent of these funds were to relieve Tribal governments. We need provide relief for our Tribal communities, not shareholders,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez stated

While U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta is concerned about Trump administration delays in dolling out the $8 billion in Coronavirus relief, the Treasury is already slated to miss its Sunday, April 26 deadline, with money scheduled for distribution on Tuesday, April 28 at the earliest. 

Lisa Koop Gunn, attorney for the Tulalip Tribes, is more concerned about the Treasury “making it clear they will not distribute the money before the court is given the opportunity to decide the issue,” reported Law360

More than 230 Alaska Native Corporations, like Tribes, are faced with the challenge of meeting the basic needs of their remote communities amid the worst public health crisis in recent history. ANCs are speaking up, claiming they’re entitled to the $8 billion as are Tribes and Alaska Native villages. 

“Many Tribes in Alaska simply do not have the capacity or resources to meet the needs of Tribal members on their own,” reads a court brief filed by Ahtna Inc., one of the Alaska Native regional corporations established by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971. “ANSCA corporations fill that role.”

As an op-ed in the Anchorage Daily News states: “Due to the vital role of Native regional and village corporations in Alaska, excluding their ability to receive relief funds will hinder the delivery of aid to some of the most vulnerable regions in Alaska. More than 80% of communities in Alaska are accessible only by air or water, and Alaska Native corporations, tribal health consortia and village corporations are often the largest employers in areas with minimal economic activity.”

The Alaska Native Village Corporation Association (ANVCA), representing the 200-plus Native village corporations, and the ANCSA Regional Association (ARA), representing 13 Native regional corporations, are advocating for their members during the federal showdown, Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation v. Mnuchin. 

The ANVCA and the ARA underscored the unique circumstances of Alaska’s corporate system to the court. Through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, ANCs are responsible for providing programs and services to their shareholders — much in the same manner as Tribal governments.

“As one Alaskan representative testified at the tribal consultations on April 2, 2020, sometimes one Alaska Native organization does not have the funding to build or maintain a service while another may have the capabilities or infrastructure in place to administer it,” the ANVCA and ARA brief states. The brief was filed ahead of the public hearing in Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation v. Mnuchin, which took place 9:30 a.m. Eastern on April 23. “While some communities, villages or tribes may be impoverished, the community of sharing in Alaska among Alaska Native people is incredible and profound, and ANCs play a major role.”