On Sept. 25, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that Alaska Native corporations (ANCs) are ineligible for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding. If the decision stands, Alaska Native regional and village corporations, including CIRI, will be excluded from sharing in $8 billion in pandemic relief funds for tribal governments.
Alaska U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young released a statement saying that “it is unconscionable that COVID-19 aid would be withheld from a subset of Alaska Native people simply because of the unique tribal system that exists in Alaska. Furthermore, this decision goes beyond the CARES Act, erasing more than 45 years of precedent and practice, with the potential to undo the tribal systems of health care, housing, education, workforce development, and more in our great state.”
The ANCSA Regional Association was likewise dismayed at the Court’s decision. “This ruling is a devastating blow to Alaska Native communities facing an alarming increase in COVID-19,” Executive Director Kim Reitmeier said in a statement. “Both CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and Alaska data show that Alaska Native people suffer from a disproportionate number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths. We fear this deeply flawed ruling will only make things worse by keeping critical health services and economic relief from reaching our remote communities and villages who are most at risk.”
Eighteen federally recognized tribes, including six from Alaska, sued the U.S. Department of Treasury beginning in April to halt the disbursement of a portion of the CARES funding to ANCs, which are for-profit entities. In the Sept. 25 ruling, a three-judge panel said that ANCs don’t count as “Indian Tribes” under the CARES Act, reversing a federal district court ruling in June.
However, the ruling hinged on Congressional use of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act definition of “Indian Tribes” when it wrote the CARES Act, which authorizes the federal government to contract with Indian Tribes to provide services to tribal members—including ANCs—in its definition of Indian Tribes.
Both Alaska Native regional and village corporations and the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury have appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of the United States.