Alaska Native Corporations front and center at the Supreme Court in federal funding fight

Published: Apr. 16, 2021 at 10:39 AM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Alaska’s Native Corporations are the subject of a Supreme Court case on Monday. The case centers around federal funding meant to help Indian tribes nationwide, $162 million of which was meant for ANCs until a legal dispute put the funds on hold.

The question at hand at the Supreme Court, what funds Alaska’s Native corporations are due under the 2020 CARES Act, the wide ranging COVID rescue package signed into law last year.

The law sets aside $8 billion for what it calls Indian Tribes. In the past, legislation mentioning Indian Tribes often included the for-profit Alaska Native corporations. But a DC Circuit Court unanimously ruled they are not entitled to money under the CARES Act

“This case is actually very technical on a small portion of one law about a definition,” said Nathaniel Amdur-Clark from the Georgetown University Law Center but based in Anchorage.

Amdur-Clark insists this case is not about tribes against Alaska Native corporations, but about Congress repeatedly considering Alaska Native corporations to be Indian tribes.

This case pits the Confederate Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation against the U.S. Treasury and the Alaska Native corporations, which own most native land in Alaska.

The corporations were formed in the 1970s under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act to help Alaska natives socially, culturally, and economically without having the close federal government ties other tribes in the lower 48 maintain.

Amdur-Clark says no longer considering these corporations “tribes” could hurt Alaska’s Native people.

“It may have impacts on Alaska Native corporations’ abilities to be providing those services,” said Amdur-Clark.

He stresses Indian tribes are not monolithic, and not all oppose the corporations getting funds. But he argues a bigger issue at hand is underfunding in Indian communities.

“That $8 billion, that’s helpful, but it’s not enough to have fully met the needs of all of the tribes,” said Amdur-Clark.

As far as the ramifications of this case, Amdur-Clark says it could change how Alaska Native Corporations are treated by the federal government.

“What would happen to the other federal programs and federal laws that use the Indian Self Determination Act definition of an Indian tribe?” said Amdur-Clark.

The case will be heard Monday morning but an opinion from the nine Justices is not expected for months.

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