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Native Sun News Today: Alaska Native corporations to garner tribal pandemic relief

WASHINGTON – The National Congress of American Indians criticized a June 26 court decision clearing the way for Alaska Native Corporations to receive shares of the $8 billion that the U.S. Congress provided tribal governments through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, three Lakota tribes and numerous other tribal governments in the lower 48 United States and Alaska had filed suits to prevent more than 200 Alaska Native corporations from receiving shares of Title 5 emergency pandemic relief the Treasury Department allocated to the for-profit northern neighbor entities after CARES Act approval March 27.

“The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) is extremely disappointed in today’s decision by the D.C. District Court in Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation v. Mnuchin,” said the non-profit, which calls itself the "oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization.”

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he had elected to include the Alaska Native Corporations, or ANCs, in the allocation of CARES Act Title 5 funds, based on advice from U.S. Interior Department Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney, an Alaska Native with close ties to the corporations.

NCAI said the court decision backing Mnuchin and Sweeney amounts to “critical congressional funding intended for Indian tribal governments being diverted to state chartered corporate entities with no governance authority and no governmental duties to tribal citizens in Alaska.”

In writing his opinion, District of Columbia U.S. Judge Amit P. Mehta interpreted Congress’ CARES Act wording to mean that ANCs should be deemed among eligible recipients to provide programmatic relief to the approximately 106,660 Alaskan Natives, 1.5 percent of the U.S. indigenous population, represented by 229 federally recognized Alaskan tribal governments.

Stressing that the ANCs are not the same as federally recognized tribal governments in terms of sovereign and treaty rights to jurisdiction and benefits, Mehta nonetheless noted that it is common practice for federal agencies to distribute native program money through the corporations.

The 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act established the regional corporations solely to administer land and financial claims filed by tribes and members in the largest U.S. state, not to govern in other aspects reserved to the total 574 federally recognized tribal governments.

“The court addresses plaintiffs’ concern that deeming ANCs eligible for Title 5 funding will enact a sea-change in tribal law,” Mehta’s opinion reads.

“The court’s ruling in no way elevates ANCs to ‘super-tribal status,’ as the Confederated Tribes plaintiffs maintain, nor does it allow ANCs to ‘compete’ with federally recognized tribes in any other context, as the Cheyenne River Sioux plaintiffs fear,” Mehta said.

“The court’s decision simply recognizes that ANCs are eligible for CARES Act funds, as Congress intended—no more, no less.” He ruled earlier that the court cannot control a department’s discretional allocation formula.


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