US Supreme Court Hears Arguments From Indigenous Tribes Over COVID Help | News on the coronavirus pandemic

Tribal groups compete for more than $ 8 billion in funding for tribal governments under the CARES 2020 Act.

On Monday, U.S. Supreme Court justices expressed sympathy for allowing federal COVID-19 relief funds to go to corporations created especially for Alaska Natives, even though they are not officially recognized as tribal governments in a case between groups of Indigenous Americans against each other.

Judges heard nearly two hours of argument in the case in which tribal groups are fighting over more than $ 8 billion in funding for tribal governments under the Relief Relief Act 2020. and economic security from the coronavirus, known as the CARES Act. About $ 533 million of this aid depends on the outcome of the case.

Three groups of Native American tribes from other parts of the United States filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington in April 2020 to try to prevent so-called Native Alaskan societies from receiving any of the funds. . Among the challengers are the Navajo Nation, the Confederate tribes of the Chehalis reserve and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

Healthcare workers vaccinating tribal and non-tribal patients at the Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center in Fairbanks, Alaska, USA [File: Nathan Howard/Reuters]

The judges said they supported Alaska Native corporations and the federal government, both of which argued that the corporations could receive the funding.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh told the challengers’ lawyer that “tens of thousands of Alaskan natives would be completely excluded” if the court accepted his argument.

“Why do you treat the natives of Alaska like a kind of second class?” Kavanaugh asked.

The CARES Act stated that funds should be distributed to “the governing body of an Indian tribe” based on the definition outlined in a 1975 federal law called the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, which mentions corporations. from Alaska.

Some judges seemed to agree with the government’s position that this definition, while poorly drafted, allows companies to participate in government programs even if they are not federally recognized tribes.

Justice Elena Kagan noted that although the wording of the law is poorly worded, there does not appear to be a plausible alternative interpretation.

“The question is, is there really some other conceivable meaning here,” Kagan said.

Last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned a lower court ruling that favored the federal government and business, prompting an appeal to the Supreme Court.

A team of healthcare workers with the Tanana Conference of Chiefs walk to board a flight in Fairbanks, Alaska, USA [File: Nathan Howard/Reuters]

The 12 companies were established to help Alaska’s natives prosper after Alaska was granted statehood in 1959. They have grown into successful and diverse businesses with interests in areas such as oil drilling. and gas, real estate and construction. In 2017, they achieved a combined revenue of $ 9.1 billion. The companies also provide various social services to the natives of Alaska.

The companies were created under a 1971 federal law that was designed to settle land claims and provide economic benefits to Alaskan natives without allocating land to tribal governments. Federal funds and land, including mineral rights, were granted to the new regional corporations.

This law also established separate Alaskan Native Village Corporations on a smaller scale. The natives of Alaska received shares of the established society where they lived.

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