Federal judge temporarily prevents Alaska Native Corporations from receiving COVID-19 aid

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A federal judge filed a preliminary injunction Monday preventing the U.S. Treasury Department from distributing coronavirus relief funds to Alaska Native Corporations.

Earlier in April, Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, the Tulalip Tribes, and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians filed suit against the Treasury Department to prevent the distribution of COVID-19 relief funds to Alaska Native Corporations. The Akiak Native Community, Asa’carsamiut Tribe and Aleut Community of St. Paul Island tribes also joined the suit as plaintiffs.

The federally recognized tribal governments argued that Alaska Native Corporations do not meet the definition of an Indian tribe or tribal government, so they should not be eligible for the $8 billion emergency aid available under Title V of the CARES Act.

The ruling will delay the federal deadline to distribute relief money to tribal governments.

In a joint statement released following Monday's decision, the ANCSA Regional Association (ARA) and Alaska Native Village Corporation Association (ANVCA) said the decision will deprive Alaska Native populations of what they say is needed economic assistance.

“We are disappointed in this decision. We still believe our position will find success in the court system, as the law is clear," the statement said in part. "This will mean a delay in necessary resources and economic assistance for Alaska Native people in our communities and our state. However, Alaska Native people have a history of resilience and strength. Together we will prevent the spread of COVID-19, care for those who are sick, and repair our economies.“

ARA and ANVCA said they look forward to a ruling that will allow them to receive additional aid for their communities.

Members of Alaska’s congressional delegation expressed disagreement with the decision, arguing that the funding package was always intended to include Alaska Native corporations as they fit the definition of tribes under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975.

“I’m very disappointed, as one with the delegation that worked to make sure the intent within the CARES Act was very clear, that Alaska Native corporations would be considered as tribal governments for purposes of the CARES Act,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski said during a Q&A in Gov. Dunleavy’s daily COVID-19 briefing Monday evening.

“I can’t imagine a judge would rule that Alaska Native Corporations are not considered tribes when the plain language of the law in the CARES Act says that they are,” Sen. Dan Sullivan said in the briefing.

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