The Alaska Federation of Natives applauds the decision issued earlier today by D.C. District Court Ahmit Mehta, ruling Alaska Native for-profit regional and village corporations (ANCs) established under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) are eligible for federal relief under the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Emergency Services Act (CARES).

“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.”

In late January, AFN began meeting with federal, state, local, and tribal officials, including the U.S. military, to better understand the trajectory of the virus, assess Alaska’s healthcare capabilities, and ensure that the state’s capacity to care for the sick would not be overwhelmed due to lack of adequate resources.

In March, the U.S. Congress passed a historic Native set-aside, directing the Treasury Department to disburse $8 billion dollars to “Indian tribes” under CARES. The allocation should have been celebrated by Alaska Natives and American Indians. Instead, a number of Lower 48 tribes and national tribal organizations worried that the definition of “Indian tribe” in CARES, which Congress borrowed from the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA)—and includes ANCs formed under ANCSA, would result in a windfall to Alaska Native peoples. Four lawsuits followed.

In May, AFN filed an amicus (or “friend of the court”) brief in the main tribal CARES lawsuit decided today. The purpose of the filing was to explain the complex web of obligations that Congress wove with respect to Alaska Natives. Congress intentionally chose to spread the responsibilities for the betterment of Alaska Native peoples over multiple Native entities, including ANCs, regional Native nonprofits, tribal consortiums, and Alaska tribes. This is what Native self-determination looks like in Alaska.

AFN understands that the powers of tribal self-governance rest exclusively with Alaska tribes. Only Alaska tribes have the power to govern their members. This inherent right is an attribute of tribal sovereignty. ANCs have no tribal self-governance authority under ANCSA, ISDEAA, CARES, or any other federal law or policy.

The world is still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. AFN has made the prevention of further spread and the response and recovery to health, social, and economic impacts of the virus our top priority. We will now work to strengthen relationships within the Alaska Native community to heal wounds opened by this and other related lawsuits as the outbreak surges.

AFN thanks the Alaska congressional delegation for passing the CARES legislation to make these critical funds available.

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