Story at a glance
- Congress allocated $8 billion to help tribal governments combat the coronavirus outbreak.
- The tribes say the Secretary of the Treasury intends to fund Alaska Native Corporations, which are for-profit corporations that include non-Indian shareholders, and generate billions of dollars.
- The Navajo Nation has become a coronavirus hotspot, with more than 1,200 cases and nearly 50 deaths.
The Navajo Nation is joining 10 other tribes in a lawsuit against the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury in an effort to secure their “fair share” of federal COVID-19 funding, the tribe announced in a statement released Wednesday.
The tribe said that while Congress allocated $8 billion to help tribal governments combat the coronavirus outbreak under the Coronavirus Relief Fund, the Secretary of the Treasury intends to fund more than 230 Alaska Native Corporations using the funds.
The Navajo Nation said the Alaska Native Corporations are for-profit corporations organized under state law and are owned by shareholders, including non-Indian shareholders, and generate billions of dollars in revenue. Tribal officials said they previously opposed the CARES Act because of funding for Alaska Native Corporations.
“Allocating funds from the Coronavirus Relief Fund to the Alaska Native Corporations will severely impact the Navajo Nation’s ability to fight COVID-19, and will impact every other tribe as well,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement.
“While the Secretary has not yet announced a formula to disburse the funds, including the Alaska Native Corporations in the calculation will reduce the funds available for tribal governments. The impact on the Navajo Nation will be significant because of the Nation’s size, population, and the already disparate impact of COVID-19 on the Nation,” Nez said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) defended the inclusion of Alaska Native Corporations in the CARES Act, saying the Native corporations are entitled to the funding as they provide socially and economically for their shareholders.
“The tribal governments have sovereignty, and we certainly respect that and want to help all tribes. But the Alaska Native Corporations also have an important and very unique role and in many ways are delivering help to all parts of our state on behalf of Alaska Native people,” Sullivan told KTOZ earlier this week, before the Navajo Nation announced it was joining the lawsuit.
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“It’s a little bit, I would say, rich to have some of these Lower 48 tribes that have huge billion-dollar casino operations, that are clearly for profit, somehow attacking Alaska Native regional and village corporations,” Sullivan added.
The Navajo Nation has been hit hard by the outbreak of COVID-19. As of Wednesday, the reservation, which encompasses 27,000 square miles across New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, recorded more than 1,200 cases with nearly 50 fatalities. On Tuesday, the Nation extended a shelter-in-place order until mid-May to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Tribal officials said while they are slowly seeing the benefits of aid from the federal government, help is not arriving fast enough as the nation is still in need of more ventilators, health care personnel, testing and personal protective equipment.
“The Navajo Nation has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Navajo Nation Attorney General Doreen N. McPaul said in a statement.
“Our Nation’s government is in dire need of support for the critical medical and community needs of our people. We are literally fighting for dollars to save lives,” McPaul said.
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