• Initial confusion over the parameters of the Paycheck Protection Program, which excluded tribally-owned casinos and led to tribal governments laying off gaming employees. • Excluding tribal fishers in the Great Lakes Region from receiving any relief funding aimed at commercial fishers, and limiting funds for tribal fishers on the West Coast in a way that forced many tribes to work through states to receive their aid. • Delaying distribution of Coronavirus Relief Funds to tribal governments, relying upon Census Data – rather than tribal enrollment data – to determine how much funding each tribe received, and diverting a large percentage of funds to for-profit companies.Congress is now considering additional pandemic relief legislation, including aid to tribal, state, and local units of government. As it finalizes this legislation, Congress should correct some of the problems from the CARES Act in providing relief to Indian Country. Most importantly, any new legislation should use clear and explicit language to express Congress’ intent for funds directed to Indian Country. New legislation should clarify that the Coronavirus Relief Fund is intended for use by the 574 federally recognized tribal governments, rather than for-profit corporations. Very few (if any) tribal leaders are opposed to relief programs for Alaska Native Corporations; nor are we opposed to allowing Tribes in Alaska to contract with ANCs to administer relief programs. Nevertheless, government aid should be directed to governments to take care of citizens (rather than shareholders), and business relief should be directed toward businesses. In distributing additional Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars, Congress should also direct the Treasury Department to rely upon tribal enrollment data rather than Census data from 2010. Census data skews funding toward tribes in higher population areas, bears no rational relationship to the actual increased costs to tribal governments as a result of COVID, and is completely untethered from the Federal Government’s trust responsibility to Indian tribes and tribal citizens. Self-identified “Native Americans” on the Census are often not members of any federally recognized tribe, and are not served by tribal governments. This simple formula is easy to audit, and can be paired with baseline funding to each tribe that accounts for their land-base or geographic scope of service.
Lastly, new pandemic relief legislation must ensure that tribal governments are given enough time to obligate funds for public health and safety infrastructure, without being under the gun to actually spend those dollars on a short timeframe. The delay in getting Coronavirus Relief Fund money to tribal governments cost us precious time to put this relief money to good use, and only increased the pressure to spend that money over the span of a few months. This pressure will either ensure that Tribes make mistakes, or are unable to put funds to the best use before sending them back to the Federal government. This virus will be with us for the foreseeable future. Allowing tribes to obligate relief funds in a shorter time period, with a medium-range window to get them spent, will ensure that we are investing in our capacity to prevent or stop COVID-19 outbreaks in Indian Country.
Tribal Leader Perspective on Pandemic: This virus will find and exploit every single weak spot in your public health system (including your culture). Just when you think you've got the bases covered, you find out you were wrong.— Bryan Newland (@RealBNewland) July 7, 2020
Bryan Newland is the Chairperson of the Bay Mills Indian Community (Ojibwe) in northern Michigan.
Join the Conversation