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Posted: April 22, 2020

April 22, 2020

Tribes Sue Treasury Secretary Mnuchin to Stop Illegal Distribution of CARES Act Funding to Alaska Native Corporations

On April 22, 2020, Big Fire Law & Policy Group and co-counsel the Alaska Office of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), and the Attorney General’s Office for the Oglala Sioux Tribe filed suit on behalf of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and the Oglala Sioux Tribe in federal court. The suit demands Treasury Secretary Mnuchin be enjoined from distributing any of the $8 billion in CARES Act funds set-aside for Tribal governments to the wealthy for-profit Alaska Native Corporations (“ANCs”). The suit has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

This joint suit by three Tribes of the Great Sioux Nation is separate from a similar tribal suit already proceeding in the D.C. District Court. The Cheyenne River Sioux, Oglala Sioux, and Rosebud Sioux Tribes stand in unique contrast to the ANCs, which are multi-billion-dollar, multinational, state-chartered, privately-owned corporations with both Native and non-Native shareholders.

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe, and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe are among the poorest and most vulnerable Tribal nations in the country. They have large, remote reservations with substandard living conditions and little economic opportunity. Together, the three Tribes govern nearly 100,000 Lakota people and millions of acres of land. A disproportionately large percentage of these 100,000 tribal members have compromised health as a result of intergenerational poverty, making them at high-risk for severe illness or death if they were to contract COVID-19.

Secretary Mnuchin’s plan to divert lifesaving funds away from legitimate Tribal governments to ANCs poses an existential threat to these Tribes during this pandemic crisis. As a further insult, Secretary Mnuchin’s Department of the Treasury allowed sensitive information on Tribal governments from across the nation to be leaked in an act of either appalling incompetence or retributive malice.

The Tribes have an important voice in this controversy because their argument demonstrates to the Court that it need not disturb any important principles of federal Indian law to decide this case in their favor. The Court needs only to rule on the plain language of the CARES Act. The CARES Act funding at issue is for Tribal governments to provide life-saving emergency governmental services to their citizens. ANCs are not Tribal governments; they are corporations looking for a multi-million-dollar windfall to pay out dividends to shareholders and line the pockets of corporate executives.

The Big Fire litigation team is led by Partner Nicole Ducheneaux, an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. The NARF Team is led by Senior Staff Attorney Natalie Landreth, an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma. The Oglala Sioux Tribe is represented by In- House Counsel Jennifer Bear Eagle, an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

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