Judge rules Alaska Native corporations can receive CARES Act funds

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A district court has ruled that Alaska Native corporations do qualify for CARES Act funding after several tribes from the Lower 48 had contested calling Alaska Native corporations “Indian tribes.”

Money to tribes was first distributed in May, but the $162 million expected for Alaska Native corporations was withheld pending legal action.

Through the CARES Act, Congress had appropriated $8 billion to tribal governments for their response to COVID-19. The Secretary of the Treasury had been temporarily prohibited from distributing money to Alaska Native corporations after tribes had filed a lawsuit.

The newest ruling says Native corporations are considered Indian Tribes and their boards are considered Tribal governments for the purpose of the CARES Act. This means the corporations can now receive the federal aid funding that was withheld in May.

[RELATED: Treasury to distribute COVID-19 relief funds to tribes as Alaska Native corporations remain in litigation]

The Alaska Congressional Delegation had advocated for the corporations to receive the funds, saying that Alaska’s “unique circumstances” must be considered when distributing the funding.

“When we passed the CARES Act and included $8 billion for tribes within the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund, we fought hard to ensure all tribes were included in the final bill. We also made sure that every Alaska Native entity would be able to expend the available resources necessary to meet the unprecedented public health crisis by including the broad, typically-used, 45-year-old definition of “Indian tribe” which includes Alaska Native Corporations,” the Alaska Congressional Delegation said in a joint press release.

The Alaska Federation of Natives has also applauded the decision after having contributed a brief to the court explaining the complexity of Native entities in Alaska.

“Alaska has a unique history of tribal self-governance and Native self-determination,” said AFN President Julie Kitka. “Our people have never understood these concepts to be mutually exclusive. Alaska Natives are pleased Judge Mehta reached the same conclusion, particularly during the Covid-19 global health pandemic.”

Three Alaska tribes were a part of the lawsuit contesting the definition of Native corporations as tribes, including the Akiak Native Community, the Asa’carsarmiut Tribe and the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island. The decision could still be appealed.

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