Indianz.Com > COVID-19 > Indian Country Organizations Letter
Posted: April 16, 2020

Tara Sweeney’s confirmation hearing to serve as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs took place before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on May 9, 2018. Photo: SCIA

Every major inter-tribal organization, representing all regions of Indian Country in the lower 48, has joined an unprecedented letter calling on the Trump administration to ensure an $8 billion coronavirus relief fund benefits tribal governments as intended by Congress.

The letter accuses the Department of the Interior of failing to live up to the government’s trust and treaty responsibilities. The tribes say Interior’s faulty interpretation of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, will lead to Alaska Native corporations (ANCs) — which are not governmental units — receiving a share of the much-needed funds from the Department of the Treasury.

“Interior has failed to protect tribal interests and has failed to properly communicate the legal nuances and issues to Treasury,” the letter reads.

The tribes further call on Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney to be removed from “all actions and decision-making” affecting the $8 billion coronavirus relief fund (CRF). Pointing back to her May 2018 confirmation hearing, in which she committed to advocate for all of Indian Country “regardless of geography,” they say she has instead advanced the interests of corporations in her home state of Alaska.

“The undersigned organizations feel the Assistant Secretary has not lived up to this commitment with her recent actions,” the letter reads.

Though the organizations stop short of calling for Sweeney’s resignation, as tribes in the Great Plains were first to do, the statement confirms a widespread lack of confidence in the official with the most responsibilities in Indian Country.

“Consistent with her oath to protect and preserve the public trust and uphold the United States’ treaty and trust obligations to tribal governments, as well as a promise made during her confirmation hearing, we demand that Assistant Secretary Sweeney recuse herself from any decision-making process regarding the CRF or related to ANCs.”

The letter [PDF] was sent to Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin and Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. The two Cabinet members are accountable for the distribution of the fund, with Treasury being in charge of putting the money into the bank accounts of eligible entities.

The letter was signed by the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, the All Pueblo Council of Governors, the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association, the Inter Tribal Association/Council of Arizona, the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, the Native American Rights Fund, the USET Sovereignty Protection Fund, the Association on American Indian Affairs, the National Congress of American Indians, the National Indian Education Association, the National Indian Gaming Association and the Native American Finance Officers Association.

Together, the organizations represent almost every single federally recognized tribe in the lower 48. 

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