Supreme Court delivers win, hundreds of millions of dollars for Alaska Native Corporations

Published: Jun. 25, 2021 at 9:55 AM AKDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Alaska Native Corporations are due hundreds of millions of dollars in relief, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday in a 6-3 decision.

The court was tasked with deciding whether ANCs were eligible for funding under the CARES Act, the COVID relief package passed in 2020. Congress had set aside $8 billion for Indian tribes, and the for-profit Corporations have been considered tribes under federal law for decades because of a definition in the 1975 Indian Self-Determination Act.

But after a number of tribes sued, a DC Circuit Court unanimously ruled ANCs should not receive COVID funding, leading the highest court in the land to take up the case, eventually overturning the circuit court’s ruling in favor of the corporations.

“The broader implication is that it also means that the ANCs are considered to be Indian tribes for the purposes of the Indian Self-Determination Act, and there are a number of laws that use that same definition,” said Nathaniel Amdur-Clark, an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown Law who has represented Indian tribes.

This decision will specifically impact the ANCs and their ability to contract for federal money, Amdur-Clark said. Written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the opinion paves the way for ANCs to continue receiving these benefits.

Amdur-Clark added that this money will continue helping Alaska natives who rely on the corporations.

“$450 million is both a big deal in Alaska and a big deal across what we refer to as ‘Indian Country,’” he said.

The dissent, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch for the three justices opposed to ANCs receiving these federal dollars, was similar to the DC Circuit’s opinion, Amdur-Clark said. Gorsuch wrote that this relief money was meant for the other underserved Indian tribes that have government-to-government relations with the U.S., who are now forced to split what Amdur-Clark argues is a small pot of funding.

“It’s always good to be increasing the size of the pie rather than arguing how that pie is distributed,” Amdur-Clark said.

The Supreme Court did not set a timeline for when the federal government must release the CARES Act funding to the ANCs.

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