The federal government is moving quickly to transfer $8 billion to tribes. So fast in fact that it’s making up the rules as it goes. And it raises a thorny question: Are Alaska Native corporations considered tribes?
This is Trahant Reports.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or the CARES act will transfer $8 billion to tribes not later than 30 days after the enactment of the March 27th law.
So everything is running at hyperspeed.
National Congress of American Indians’ President Fawn Sharp, Quinault, wrote the Secretary of the Treasury Stephen Mnuchin and said the funding should be “distributed to Tribal governments.” However, she said the legislation uses a definition that lumps federally recognized tribes together with for-profit corporations created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
“It is important to note the distinction between Alaska Native tribal villages and ANCSA regional or village corporations,” Sharp wrote. “Alaska Native tribal villages exercise sovereign governmental authority over their lands and citizens, possess a government-to-government relationship with the United States.”
Sharp’s letter was blunt: “These funds will be critical to assist Tribal governments in withstanding the impacts of COVID-19.”
If the 13 regional Alaska Native Corporations, and the 270 village corporations are included in the fund that would significantly reduce the funding available to 574 federally-recognized tribes, including those in Alaska.
A consultation letter Monday from the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association went even further.
“Please do not allow Alaska Native Corporations to be counted as Tribal governments under the CARES Act … that would be contrary to the plain language of the CARES Act, and it would allow for double or triple counting of Alaska Natives since members of federally-recognized Alaska Native villages are also shareholders in Alaska Native Regional Corporations and Alaska Native Village Corporations,” wrote Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and chairman of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association.
Alaska Native corporations also have profit-making as their primary mission, not governmental services such as public safety, health, or education. Still, their businesses from telecommunications, fisheries, oil and gas support, to logging have been deeply impacted by the national emergency.
The CARE Act the single largest investment ever made by the United States in Indian Country– yet how that money will be spent remains a open question.
I am Mark Trahant.