Federal judge temporarily blocks aid to Alaska Native corporations

Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan photographed in 2015. On Monday, Murkowski and Sullivan said they were disappointed that U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Amit Mehta temporarily blocked the federal government from paying CARES Act fund to Alaska Native corporations.  (Photo by Mikko Wilson/KTOO)

A federal judge temporarily blocked the federal government from paying CARES Act funding to Alaska Native corporations. 

U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta issued an order finding that the tribes that sued to block the money from being paid to regional or village corporations were likely to win. 

The lawsuit was filed by tribes in the Lower 48 and Alaska. They argue that the corporations don’t meet the federal definitions of “Indian Tribe” or “Tribal government.” 

Alaska’s U.S. senators said they’re disappointed. 

Sen. Lisa Murkowski said the state’s delegation worked to ensure the federal law used a definition of tribes that included the corporations.   

“This is not an issue of governance,” she said. “This is an issue of making sure that those costs that have been incurred on the benefit and for the behalf of Alaska Natives — to cover those related costs to the coronavirus — can be reimbursed.”

And Sen. Dan Sullivan said the corporations have missions mandated by the federal government beyond those of other corporations. 

“This definition was mandated by Congress, and I hope the district court gives as much attention to the ANCs as it does to some of the Lower 48 tribes who brought this lawsuit, lawsuits that have, you know, billion-dollar casino operations that no one seems to be paying much attention to,” he said.

The senators spoke about the issue during Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s nightly COVID-19 news briefing.

The judge only granted part of what the tribes were looking for. He didn’t order the government to pay out all of the money that’s being disputed to the tribes.

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Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.