There is no question that we are facing a seminal health crisis that threatens Indian Country and the world. It’s time for Native organizations across our country to stand and work together to fight COVID-19 and repair our economies.
When Indian Country, Alaska Native corporations and tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations align as one, our ability to serve our people is powerful. When we publicly bicker, the benefit comes not to our tribes and our people, but to those who oppose our traditions, self-determination and economic opportunity.
Below is a list of frequently asked questions regarding Alaska Native corporations and CARES Act Tribal Relief Funding.
What are Alaska Native corporations?
Alaska Native corporations were formed as part of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. Signed into law by President Richard Nixon, ANCSA settled the aboriginal land claims of the Alaska Native people by providing money, land and other natural resources to regional and village corporations across the state.
Unlike other for-profit companies, Alaska Native corporations (ANCs) were mandated by Congress to care for the social, cultural, and economic well-being of their Alaska Native shareholders in perpetuity. As such, Alaska Native corporations provide a myriad of benefits to their Alaska Native shareholders and their Alaska Native descendants. Some of the benefits ANCs provide include cash distributions, funding for funeral potlatches, job training programs, scholarships for students in pre-school through PhD programs, culture camps, Alaska Native language programs, temporary housing for displaced shareholders, and more.
Why are tribes so frustrated that ANCs are included in the CARES Act Tribal Relief Funding?
All legislation is complex. We believe it stems from misinformation and miscommunication around the role of ANCs and what is included in the CARES Act Tribal Relief Funding provisions.
It’s important to remember that in Alaska, tribes do not own land and not all Alaska Natives are enrolled in tribes. Land and population are criteria Treasury is considering in the formula to decide who should receive CARES Act Tribal Relief Funding. Also, Alaska Native corporations’ mandate under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act is to support our Alaska Native shareholders economically, culturally and socially.
If ANCs are left out of the CARES Act Tribal Relief Funding, Alaska Native people will be severely underrepresented in aid that is needed to protect Alaska’s rural communities from COVID-19 and repair our economies.
Why are Alaska Native corporations included in the CARES Act for Tribal Relief Funding?
The CARES Act Tribal Relief Funding is clear: Alaska Native regional and village corporations are “tribes” under the CARES Act and are eligible for funding. The Departments of Treasury and Interior have both affirmed their interpretations that ANCs (on behalf of their Alaska Native shareholders) were intended by Congress to be included with other tribes in the act’s Tribal Relief Fund provisions.
How long has the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act definition been in place?
Congress has used this definition for tribe for more than four decades.
Were regional ANCs involved in drafting the definition used in the CARES Act Tribal Relief Funding?
ANCs were NOT involved in the decision to use the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act definition for who should be included in the CARES Act, but Congress has used this definition for more than four decades.
Why should ANCs be eligible for federal relief money designated for local governments?
Lower 48 tribes and ANCs are different by law but serve some similar purposes.
As Alaska Native corporations, our mandate under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act is to support our Alaska Native shareholders economically, culturally and socially. We have a legal responsibility of service to our Alaska Native shareholders and communities. We work collaboratively with our Alaska tribes because our tribal rights were bifurcated by the federal government such that our tribes have sovereign status, while our Alaska Native corporations own our Native lands. Together, we represent the full set of interests of our Alaska Native people.
In this time of need, Alaskans are stepping up to provide critical support to elders and other vulnerable populations. Alaska Native corporations are doing our part by partnering with tribes and non-profits in our regions to flatten the curve and help our rural economies recover.
Do you plan to apply for Tribal Relief Funding?
Eligible entities do not apply for a funding amount. Eligible entities respond to a questionnaire on the Department of Treasury portal. Many Alaska Native corporations have responded to the questionnaire. The Department of Treasury will issue guidance based on a formula they develop in accordance with the CARES Act that was passed unanimously by Congress. The formula has not yet been announced.
Do you plan to accept Tribal Relief Funding?
It will be up to each Alaska Native corporation to determine if they will accept Tribal Relief Funding on behalf of their shareholders and their communities. As Alaska Native corporations, our mandate under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act is to support our Alaska Native shareholders economically, culturally and socially. We have a responsibility of service to our Alaska Native shareholders and communities.
The challenge of COVID-19 is unparalleled and will require response from all Alaska Native institutions. Tribes, village corporations, and regional corporations will have the opportunity to make collective decisions with some or all of the funds they receive. Many, many needs do and will continue to exist, and it’s premature to say with exact precision how the funds will be expended.
Why are Alaska Natives at risk from COVID-19?
Due to the vital role of Alaska Native regional and village corporations in Alaska, excluding their ability to receive relief funds will hinder the delivery of aid to some of the most vulnerable regions in Alaska.
This funding is imperative in Alaska given the historical impact of the Spanish flu of 1918-1919. The flu hit Alaska, and particularly rural Alaska, hard. Alaska Department of Health and Social Services data shows that the flu caused half of the territory’s deaths within those two years. The flu was particularly harmful to Alaska Native people, who comprised than 80% of flu-related deaths.
Why do Alaska Native corporations need Tribal Relief Funding?
More than 80 percent of our communities are accessible only by air or water, and Alaska Native regional corporations, village corporations, and tribal health organizations are often the largest employers in areas with minimal economic activity. Alaska Native corporations will play a critical role in helping rural Alaska economies to recover from COVID-19, and Tribal Relief Funding will assist Alaska Native people and communities to recover from COVID-19.
How many people, roughly, will this money serve?
According to the 2014 Census update, 18% of Alaska’s general population is American Indian or Alaska Native – the highest rate for this racial group of any state. Therefore, the CARES Act funds could serve more than 150,000 people, the majority of whom are Alaska Native corporation shareholders.
What is your timeline for allocation of the funds?
The Department of Treasury mandates a process of tracking and auditing the money’s use. As soon as we see the guidance from Treasury, and have tracking protocols in place, we will disperse funds as quickly as possible.
Have Alaska Native corporations spent any funds expecting to be reimbursed by Tribal Relief Funding?
Alaska Native corporations have not spent funds in anticipation of receiving Tribal Relief Funding, but they have spent funds from their operations to assist with COVID-19 response. See the next question for more information.
Have Alaska Native corporations spent any money on coronavirus relief efforts?
Alaska Native corporations have already begun to partner with our communities, tribes and non-profits to provide critical community support. In fact, in many regions, Alaska Native corporations responded to the global pandemic before the federal or state governments. Here is a list of what some Alaska Native regional corporations have done thus far to help our communities prepare, respond and recover from coronavirus:
- Two Alaska Native regional corporations issued special distributions to shareholders to provide immediate economic relief to families impacted by COVID-19.
- Eight Alaska Native regional corporations issued some or all of their regular distributions or 7(j) distributions early to thousands of Alaska Native shareholders and village corporations. These distributions infused needed cash into villages and provided economic relief to families impacted by COVID-19. Many families reported that the funds were used to pay mortgages, rent, and utilities, as well as purchase groceries and other necessities.
- Four Alaska Native regional corporations are sponsoring region-wide virtual meetings to coordinate COVID-19 response and preparedness. These meetings are attended by community leaders, Alaska Native tribes, tribal health organizations, city governments, non-profits, and other organizations.
- One Alaska Native regional corporation pledged $1 million to COVID-19 relief and recovery. The corporation is providing immediate support for shareholders who are disproportionately affected by the economic consequences of the crisis. This pledge provides emergency response funding for several nonprofit organizations delivering urgent recovery services. The funds will also bolster the efforts of tribes throughout the region and other support agencies across the state that are working to meet emergency needs. Several of the organizations being funded specifically support Alaska Native elders and youth at a time when they are most vulnerable.
- One Alaska Native regional corporation committed $100,000 to non-profits in their region for COVID-19 response and preparedness.
- One Alaska Native regional corporation pledged $250,000 to in-region communities for COVID-19 relief, along with $75,000 to in-region and statewide food banks.
- One Alaska Native regional corporation committed $200,000 to tribes and non-profits in its region and in urban Alaska, Seattle and Portland for COVID-19 response. It also donated the use of valuable nationwide spectrum for immediate deployment by national wireless carriers to help with dramatically increased use by telecommunication providers during the crisis and built two man camps and turned an existing 48 bed man camp into temporary housing for village residents who cannot travel home due to travel restrictions.
- One Alaska Native regional corporation committed $130,000 worth of critical supplies to stop the spread of disease and is assembling these items into COVID-19 community response kits. Kits will be mailed to their in-region villages and include cleaner, masks, gloves, and other essential goods to stop the spread of disease.
- One Alaska Native regional corporation committed $50,000 to support in-region needs, particularly food security, sent care packages to Elders and school-age youth in its villages, and is facilitating regular region-wide COVID-19 response meetings with tribal and community leaders.
Do you support Assistant Secretary of State for Indian Affairs Tara Katuk Sweeney?
We stand by Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Katuk Sweeney not out of regional loyalty, but out of respect and admiration for the incredible work she has done to advocate for indigenous peoples across the country.