Alaska’s congressional delegation has filed an amicus brief in support of granting Alaska Native corporations’ eligibility for tribal assistance appropriated by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, with Rep. Don Young, all R-Alaska, contend that indigenous people in Alaska will be subject to negative consequences as a result of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision of Sept. 25, which held that Alaska Native corporations are ineligible for CARES Act Tribal coronavirus relief funding.
Amicus curiae is a Latin phrase that literally means “friend of the court.” The term is used in reference to a legal brief, called an amicus brief, that may be filed with an appellate court, including supreme court by a party not involved with the case, but in support of one side or the other on the legal issue at hand.
The delegation argues that the circuit court decision should be revered, citing decades old precedent and federal Indian law in support of Alaska Native corporations’ eligibility for such funds. The CARES AT, which was signed into law on March 27, includes an $8 billion set-aside for Tribal governments.
The amicus brief contends, in part, that if the circuit court’s decision is allow to stand it will force indigenous people to try to seek redress from the state rather than the federal government, which owes them a special duty under the trust relationship as Indians.
“Not only is this incorrect for legal and historic reasons, but it is also not the reality of how services are received or delivered in Alaska,” the brief said.
The delegation also argues that current COVID cases in the remote villages hit 20 percent and little safeguards within the communities. Over 30 villages lack basic sanitation infrastructure, with no running water for all residents and no flush toilets, the lack of which only enables the pandemic to spread.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 survey, 15.8 percent of Alaska’s overall population is Alaska Native and American Indian alone, the delegation said.
“With the pandemic just reaching the villages, Alaska Native and American Indian people already account for 32.3 percent of total deaths in Alaska. This is occurring while needed relief funds are being withheld,” they said.
Last spring 18 tribes, including six from Alaska, filed three separate lawsuits to block distribution of CARES Act funds to the Alaska Native corporations. After the decision handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Amit P. Mehta, Native News Online reported that Tribal organizations, including the National Congress of American Indians in support of his decision.
NCAI said in part that “Tribal nations should not have to wait any longer to receive relief funding as they battle the coronavirus pandemic. We again call on Congress and the administration to shift focus back to distributing much needed funding to Indian Country.”
“Federal District Court Judge Mehta made it clear that the Alaska Native corporations are not considered governments,” said Dante Desiderio, executive director of the Native American Finance Officers Association. “This is a strong and clear win for Tribal governments and marks the end of an ill-timed and bold challenge by Alaska corporations for government funds during a pandemic. We are hopeful that tribal and Alaska village governments will receive the much-needed funds quickly as was intended by Congress.”