CARES Act Litigation Impacts Doyon
Doyon, as an Alaska Native corporation, is eligible for the CARES Act Tribal funding set aside for Native people. The Departments of Treasury and Interior have both affirmed their interpretations that Alaska Native corporations, like Doyon, are intended by Congress to be included along with other tribes in the Act’s Tribal Relief Fund provisions. To date, Doyon has not received any of the funding from the US Treasury, due to ongoing litigation.
The CARES Act is clear in that Alaska Native regional and village corporations are “tribes” under the CARES Act and are eligible for Tribal Relief Funds.
Sixty years ago, Alaska Natives saw deficiencies in the way American Indians were treated by the federal government through the reservation, relocation, and termination policies, and as a result, Alaska Natives chose a different path. Alaska Natives negotiated a settlement with the federal government that culminated in the passage of Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971.
This negotiated settlement is foundational to the understanding of the complex relationship between Alaska Natives and the federal government. Through the settlement, Regional and Village Corporations were created, each with separate and specific responsibilities. This negotiated, multi-bodied structure was chosen by the Alaska Native people to provide support, through financial investment and land management, for Alaska Native people.
The Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEA) was adopted and signed into law by President Nixon in 1975, and the inclusion of Alaska Native Corporations in the definition of ‘Indian Tribe’ was one way to ensure Alaska Native people benefited from federal programs while acknowledging Alaska’s unique history.
Under the CARES Act, the term ‘Indian Tribe’ used the definition from ISDEA, which states that “Indian Tribe” means “any Indian tribe, band, nation, or other organized group or community, including any Alaska Native village OR regional OR village corporation as defined in or established pursuant to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act which is recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians.”
If Alaska Native Regional and Village corporations were left out of the CARES Act Tribal Relief Funding, Alaska Native people would be underrepresented in aid that is needed to protect Alaska’s rural communities from COVID-19 and repair our economies.
Including Alaska Native corporations in the definition under ISDEA, and certain related laws has helped fund many of the non-profit corporations that serve Native people in Alaska. One example of this impact is that through ISDEA, Doyon is a tribe within the meaning of Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act of 1996 (NAHASDA). Beginning in 1998, Doyon has annually designated the Interior Regional Housing Authority (IRHA) as the Tribal Designated Housing Entity. IRHA serves the tribes of the Doyon region, encompassing remote traditional villages as well as Alaska’s second-largest city, Fairbanks. This designation results in a majority of the funding received by IRHA each year.
These designations of tribal authority by Doyon have allowed participation by the people of our region to benefit from federal policies including the Indian Child Welfare Act, the Indian Child Welfare Contract, the Indian Self Determination Act, Indian Self Determination Policy, federal block grants, and the NAHASDA programs.
The benefit to our region is especially important for Alaska Native people living in Fairbanks. Much of the federal funding received each year by the Fairbanks Native Association (FNA) is as a result of Doyon’s designation of FNA to receive tribal grant funds. Denakkanaaga, our regional Elder’s organization, also benefits from federal programs through Doyon’s designation.
While at this time, the court has not yet allowed the Department of Treasury to release funds to Alaska Native Corporations, Doyon intends to stay engaged with federal policy and the CARES Act litigation. Doyon also expects to work together with all Alaska Native organizations to fight COVID-19 and repair economies.