FLAGSTAFF (AP) – Alaska Native corporations are eligible for a share of coronavirus relief funding set aside for tribes, a federal judge in the United States (US) ruled late on Friday in a case that has been closely watched.
United States (US) District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington DC, initially granted a request from tribal nations to withhold money from the corporations while he determined whether they qualified for a share of USD8 billion.
Mehta said the corporations can be treated as tribal governments for limited purposes after sorting through arguments that picked apart the language in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, congressional intent and the history of other federal laws.
“It stands to reason that Congress, in its effort to distribute emergency funds quickly to Indians under the CARES Act, intended to get those dollars in the hands of the same entities that deliver public services to Indians,” he wrote.
“In the lower 48 states, those entities are largely Tribal governments in the traditional sense, but in Alaska, those entities include Alaska Native village and regional corporations.”
Various tribes that sued said they were reviewing the decision and deciding on next steps.
“We sincerely believe that Alaska Native corporations are not governments and should not be allowed to access funding that is intended to go to tribal governments,” said Rémi Bald Eagle, a spokesman for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota.
The Treasury Department, responsible for doling out the money, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It withheld more than USD162 million for Alaska Native corporations from an initial disbursement that was based on population data, according to court documents. The total hasn’t publicly been disclosed.