May 5, 2020
The Tulalip Tribes and the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation in Washington state, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians in Maine, three Alaska Tribes, and other Plaintiff Tribes from across the country filed suit on April 16, 2020, after the Secretary of Treasury indicated that he would use monies intended for Tribal governments to fund Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs). In a joint press release, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt today announced that $4.8 billion in funds from the COVID-19 Relief Fund will be made available to Tribal governments beginning today, exclusive of ANCs.
On April 27, 2020, in Chehahis v. Mnuchin, District Judge Amit Mehta granted the Plaintiff Tribes’ motion for injunctive relief and prohibited the Department from distributing funds Congress intended for Tribal governments to for-profit Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs). The Court held that “presently, no ANC satisfies the definition of ‘Tribal government’ under the CARES Act and therefore no ANC is eligible for any share of the $8B billion allocated by Congress for Tribal Governments.”
Plaintiff Tribes and the U.S. Department of the Treasury, filed a Joint Status Report Friday May 1, 2020, as required by the Court. The Court had ordered Treasury to “update the court on any developments in the disbursement of Title V funds to federally recognized Indian tribes, as well as any funds withheld from ANCs pursuant to the court’s preliminary injunction order.” The Plaintiff Tribes continued to demand that Treasury distribute coronavirus relief funding to federally recognized Indian tribes without further delay. The Tribes told the Court last Friday that they will take additional legal action if the payments were not immediately forthcoming this week.
“We are pleased that Treasury will begin to release relief funds to tribal governments starting today, consistent with the Court Order,” Tulalip Chairwoman Teri Gobin says. “Federally recognized Indian tribes from every corner of the United States have been in critical need of the CARES Act funds that Treasury has been inexplicably withholding,” stated Gobin. “Without these funds, Tribal governments cannot provide essential government services necessary to protect their communities from the virus. Every day wasted jeopardizes the health and economies of the communities Tribal governments serve.”
Chehalis Chairman Harry Pickernell Sr. adds, “The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation is pleased that the Secretary of the Treasury has finally begun disbursement of CARES Act funds to federally recognized Indian tribes. However, the need in Indian Country is great, and Tribal governments need all of the $8 billion Congress set aside for them now. The Secretary should immediately reverse his decision to withhold CARES Act funds for for-profit ANCs.
The three Alaska co-plaintiffs are the Akiak Native Community, the Asa’carsarmiut Tribe, and the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island. The Plaintiffs subsequently filed an amended complaint to add the Navajo Nation, Quinault Indian Nation, Pueblo of Picuris, Elk Valley Rancheria, and San Carlos Apache Tribe. Two other lawsuits followed and have been consolidated with the original case.