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WASHINGTON — Six federally recognized tribes, including three from Alaska, filed a federal lawsuit today against Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin today, asking that the court stop him from distributing any of $8 billion in tribal relief funds to 230 for-profit corporations incorporated in Alaska.  

The lawsuit, filed this morning in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeks preliminary and permanent injunctions that would prohibit Mnuchin from designating for-profit Alaska Native Corporations as Tribal governments for the purpose of allocating and distributing Coronavirus Relief Funds earmarked for Indian Country in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The suit also asks the court to find that Mnuchin’s designation of ANCs as Tribal governments is “arbitrary and capricious” and exceeds his authority.        

The tribes that filed the lawsuits are the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation and Tulalip Tribes from the state of Washington, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians from Maine and three tribes from Alaska:  the Akiak Native Community, the Asa’carsarmiut Tribe, and the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island. Collectively, the six tribes represent about 10,000 tribal members.   

The tribes claim in the lawsuit that Mnuchin threatens to defy Congress’s mandate by diverting relief funds away from sovereign Tribal governments to more than 230 for-profit corporations incorporated under the state of Alaska and their shareholders.

Treating these private corporations as Tribal governments reduces the funds available for allocation to the tribes, who are “in dire need of the funds to support the necessary and increased expenditures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit alleges that distributing funds to the shareholder-owned ANCs would reduce the amount paid to each of the 574 federally recognized tribes by $4 million or more.  The suit also alleges that because ANCs are closely affiliated with federally recognized Alaska Native villages and many corporate shareholders are tribal members, some entities in Alaska would effectively “double dip” or, in some cases, “triple dip” from the limited pool of funds.   

There are more than 230 ANCs, including 12 regional and approximately 225 village corporations.  The 12 regional corporations have more than 138,000 shareholders and operate in all 50 states and countries across the globe.  

Mnuchin is required to disburse all $8 billion by April 26.  

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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