Murkowski also said she was upset by NCAI’s efforts to engage with the Department of the Treasury in a government-to-government manner. She cited a letter the organization sent to Secretary Steven Mnuchin back in April, as a tribal consultation process was underway in connection with the $8 billion. “I was disappointed that NCAI made no effort to communicate with the Alaska delegation to understand our perspective or to promote understanding before issuing their April 11, 2020 letter urging Treasury to exclude ANCs,” Murkowski wrote. But what Murkowski left out were her own lobbying efforts. According to documents released as part of ongoing litigation, the very same Alaska delegation secured their own private meeting with the Treasury official in charge of the $8 billion fund. The special meeting was separate from the two consultation calls that were set up for tribal leaders, thousands of whom participated as they worked day and night to prevent the coronavirus from spreading in their communities. The all-Republican Alaska delegation followed up a letter of their own to the Trump administration, which they sent five days before NCAI’s. But after learning of NCAI’s letter, as well as concerns raised by tribes and tribal organizations nationwide, Murkowski and her cohorts refused to sit silent. They came up with an even more detailed letter in which they presented a compromise where ANCs would only receive shares of COVID-19 relief if designated by a sovereign tribal government. The compromise was not adopted by the Trump administration. Still, the Alaska delegation failed to mention their special call with Counselor Daniel Kowalski, the Treasury official leading the tribal set-aside discussions on behalf of Secretary Mnuchin. He never brought any ANC concerns up during the two tribal consultations that took place in April either. And as Murkowski criticized NCAI for questioning the ethics of Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney, who is Inupiat from Alaska and a former high-ranking executive at the wealthiest Native corporation, she left out even more details. One of her former aides happens to be Sweeney’s spouse. Kevin Sweeney runs his own lobbying and consulting business, one that trades on its access to the Trump administration and whose clients include Alaska Native corporate entities. He worked for Murkowski as part of her Senate staff, as well as for her election campaigns, one of which resulted in ANCs spending $1.6 billion in support of her historic write-in campaign a decade ago. But if anyone is looking for NCAI to hit back at Murkowski, don’t bet on a rash response. Even though the senior U.S. Senator from Alaska titled her letter “Tribal Unity and Alaska” and released it as several Indian Country organizations wrapped up Tribal Unity Days on Thursday, an event that included Alaska tribal leaders, there’t no rush to react. “We feel that this is a matter between the Senator and NCAI, and out of a deep respect to the Senator and her concerns, and of those of NCAI and Indian Country, we will communicate directly with the Senator and her staff, and not through the media,” Kevin Allis, a citizen of the Forest County Potawatomi Community who serves as the organization’s chief executive officer, told Indianz.Com on Friday.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is not happy with the National Congress of American Indians. Read this stunning letter/lecture on "Tribal Unity" from a non-Indian Republican member of Congress. #TUID2020 @NCAI1944 #Republicans #Alaska @lisamurkowski https://t.co/8QvaY3HkJt— indianz.com (@indianz) September 18, 2020
But few in Indian Country are able to attach their names to their concerns, largely because they don’t enjoy the same level of privilege and power afforded to a member of a government institution that currently lacks Native American representation. Not only does Murkowski serve on the Senate Committee on Appropriations, she leads the subcommittee that’s in charge of how much federal funding goes to tribes and their communities. And while Murkowski portrayed her letter to NCAI as an effort to educate “non-Alaskan tribal leaders” about Alaska’s unique history, the underlying dispute is hardly cut and dried. So much so that earlier this week, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals — considered second in stature only to the U.S. Supreme Court — put yet another hold on distributing shares of the $8 billion coronavirus relief fund to the Native corporations in Alaska. The September 14 order from the appeals court came just one business day after a panel of three judges on the D.C. Circuit took up the COVID-19 dispute. The hearing was only scheduled to last 30 minutes — but it ended up running over 90 minutes, a sign of the complexity of the matter involving the Department of the Treasury, the agency responsible for distributing the COVID-19 relive to tribes. “There’s a lack of trust that tribal leaders have seen between Treasury and tribes,” Governor Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community said during a panel hosted by Harvard University on Thursday. “Treasury is trying to fit, you know, a square peg into a round hole and there’s a lot of frustration out there among tribal leaders,” added Lewis, whose own efforts to sway the Trump administration on how to distribute the $8 billion — including a face-to-face meeting with the president on May 5 — went unrealized.
Whitesplaining whiner. Conservatives have always devalued strong clear-minded progressives as “devisive”. https://t.co/C4hS0mqO6S— ndngenuity (@ndngenuity) September 18, 2020
In total, there are more than 200 Native corporations in Alaska — 13 being regional, with the rest at the village level. The state is also home to more than 220 federally recognized tribes, whose governments received shares of the $8 billion fund, just like their counterparts in the lower 48. The Trump administration, however, has not confirmed how much has gone to Alaska tribes. But what little information that has trickled out shows that Alaska tribal governments received far less than the $534 million being held for the ANCs, a disparity Murkowski didn’t discuss in her letter to NCAI. Government attorneys at one point indicated only about $38 million went to Indian nations in Alaska from the first round of payments, which were released behind schedule on May 5. Two additional payments were made in July, also later than promised. Assuming McCowan’s characterizations are true, tribes in Alaska received less than $326 million in COVID-19 relief, again far less than the money being held for the ANCs. Murkowski’s letter isn’t the first time she’s publicly complained about the $8 billion coronavirus relief fund but she’s taken great steps not to be seen as overly critical of the Trump administration. When she has expressed concerns about the executive branch, the president himself has lashed out against her, at one point claiming he would campaign against her should she choose to seek re-election in 2022. Instead, Murkowski found a way to blame tribes for delays in getting the money out even though government attorneys repeatedly admitted in court that Treasury was having trouble coming up with an allocation method. The department failed to make payment within 30 days as required by the CARES Act. Yet states and local governments received their COVID-19 relief without problems. “Tribes play a central part in providing all those essential services for their citizens and they need to be treated like full governments, the same as states,” Governor Lewis said on Thursday.
Thank you to everyone who attended our Tribal Unity Impact Days 2020. We had over 1,000 registrants sign up for roundtables with 14 members of Congress, exchanging meaningful dialogue and ideas for a better government to government relationship. pic.twitter.com/dYBp99CTEU— National Congress of American Indians (@NCAI1944) September 18, 2020
Appeals court hears arguments in COVID-19 funding dispute (September 11, 2020)
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