Federal funding for Alaska Native Corporations under scrutiny at the Supreme Court

Published: Apr. 19, 2021 at 12:16 PM AKDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Alaska’s Native Corporations are the subject of a Supreme Court case Monday. The case has to do with millions of dollars of federal COVID relief meant for the ANCs under the CARES Act. The case could have widespread implications in Alaska. Arguments once again took place in a remote fashion because of the pandemic.

Congress set aside $8 billion for Indian tribes, a term under which Alaska Native Corporations have been included in federal law for decades because of a definition in the 1975 Indian Self Determination Act.

But after a DC Circuit Court unanimously ruled they should not receive COVID funding, the highest court in the land took up the case. Riyaz Kanji, counsel for one of the tribes pitted against the Alaska Native corporations in this case says the text of the CARES Act is clear and ANCs are not meant to receive this funding that would take away from other tribes.

“The allocations were intended for federally recognized tribes,” said Kanji.

Kanji argues this case goes beyond just a ruling on the interpretation of the CARES Act, saying a ruling in favor of ANCs and considering them tribal governments could give them unintended and expanded powers.

“Corporations would all of a sudden have a significant say in governmental decisions about how these programs and services should be administered,” said Kanji.

ANCs were formed in the 1970s under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act to help Alaska natives without having the close federal government ties other tribes in the lower 48 maintain. In the oral arguments Monday, the legal team for the corporations said changing the definition now to exclude ANCs could leave thousands of Alaska natives out in the cold.

Nathaniel Amdur-Clark from Georgetown Law said ahead of the case there could be an impact on how the corporations are able to provide services for native people.

“What would happen to the other federal programs and federal laws that use the Indian Self Determination Act definition of Indian tribe and are understood currently as including Alaska Native Corporations?” said Amdur-Clark.

An opinion from the Court is not expected for months.

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