Nasty Twitter fight: ‘She wants to profit’ versus that’s ‘despicable'

In this image from video, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks on the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on March 25. (Senate Television via AP)

Joaqlin Estus

The assistant secretary for Indian Affairs has a Trump-like moment when she attacks a U.S. senator.

Joaqlin Estus

Indian Country Today

It's hard to imagine the tone in Washington getting any worse. Until today.

In an unusual public spat involving a high-ranking Interior Department official, the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs quickly struck back following a Twitter jab from U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Schumer on Thursday waded into the fight over Assistant Secretary Tara Sweeney's handling of coronavirus relief funding for tribes, saying she used her position to help Alaska Native corporations, including one she once worked for.

“We can’t put these corporations before tribal governments & people,” he tweeted. “Sweeney used to be an exec for an ANC [Alaska Native corporation], and she wants to profit!”

Sweeney, Inupiaq, responded: “@SenSchumer Even for you, this is an ignorant and despicably low attack that could not be further from the truth. Perhaps you should read the law you negotiated and voted for as Alaska Natives are entitled to receive the funding from @USTreasury.”

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy also joined the Twitter debate, defending Sweeney and telling Schumer: “I am appalled that you would consider excluding our Alaskan Native entities.”

The fight follows tribes’ sharp criticism of a decision by the departments of Interior and Treasury to make Alaska Native corporations eligible for funding in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act set aside for tribes. The Interior Department has said it is following the law.

(Previous story: 'Lost confidence' plus claims of unfair diversion for $8 billion fund)

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe announced Thursday it plans to file an injunction to stop the federal government if it takes steps to implement its decision on distributing the funding. The Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association, which represents 16 tribes in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska, and the Native Village of Akiak of Alaska earlier voiced their opposition in letters to the federal agencies.

Also Thursday, the Navajo Nation said in a statement that it advocated strongly for inclusion of tribes in the CARES act, and “now we must continue fighting to keep what was allocated to us.”

Navajo Nation president Jonathan Nez wrote, “The $8 billion tribal set-aside should provide much-needed relief to tribes, not for-profit corporations. These for-profit corporations will take away resources from tribes.”

Sweeney is the former vice president of the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., a for-profit company created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. Arctic Slope is the wealthiest of the 12 existing regional Native corporations due to annual revenues, which in 2018 came to $3 billion, from oil and gas-related assets.

(Related: Alaskan tribe joins opposition to funding for tribes going to Alaska Native corporations)

In addition to Alaska’s 12 regional corporations, 200 village corporations are eligible for CARES funds. They would draw from the same $8 billion pot as 574 federally recognized tribes, including 229 Alaska Native village governments.

“Congress directed this — it’s clear as day,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said. He told Politico that Schumer’s attack on Sweeney is a “bunch of bull----” and an attempt at character assassination. “It’s going to be a little embarrassing when he finds out he signed off on that definition.”

Republicans in the Senate and the administration say the law is clear. But the language that authorized the participation of Alaska Native corporations was a definition for another law inserted into the massive bailout bill. Democrats say congressional intent was to support tribes, not for-profit corporations, with the Tribal Government Relief Fund.

The section of the CARES Act setting aside money for state, local and tribal governments cites the Indian Self Determination and Educational Assistance Act, or Public Law 93-638. That law includes the following definition: “Indian tribe means any Indian tribe, band, nation, or other organized group, or community, including pueblos, rancherias, colonies and 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.”

Tribes contend the corporations do not fit that definition of a tribe under the Self Determination act.

The Interior Department said in a statement Wednesday that Sweeney is committed to supporting all American Indians and Alaska Natives, "and to suggest she has personal motives or that she is attempting to divert funds away from American Indians is completely false."

"Her approach has always been focused on inclusiveness, transparency and partnerships," the agency said in the statement in response to the letter from the Great Plains Chairmen’s Association. "It is unfortunate that during a time of historic appropriations for the Native American community, some are seeking to divide the community and are suggesting we ignore the mandate of Congress and exclude eligible entities as defined by law.”

The Navajo Nation is an example of tribes that have been particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus. As of Wednesday, it had 921 positive COVID-19 cases and 38 deaths. The disease’s peak on the Navajo reservation is not expected until mid-May.

The letter from Nez concluded, “We are praying for the best, and preparing for the worst. If the projections are accurate, we have a long way to go in terms of providing health care treatment, hospital beds, ventilators, and much more. … We strongly urge the Department of the Interior and the Department of the Treasury to re-evaluate their position and do what is right for all tribes.”

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DB penny
DB penny



Dan Sullivan is just a tool, he is a carpet bagger. His sister-in-law is a board member at Doyon (one of the largest ANCs) and he met his wife while she was in Washington, DC working as a lobbyist for Doyon.


This makes me beyond sick! Every federally recognized Tribe needs to stand up to to this disgusting display of corporate greed during this crisis. If we cannot provide care to our elders and communities due to lack of resources, we need to hold these "native" profit seeking corporations masquerading as tribal governments responsible!


Hands off true tribal relief funds.Greedy for profit corporations and their lobbyists should take a hike


Bering Straits Native Corporation
The corporation, BSNC has distributed $23 million in dividends to its shareholders since its inception.
Bristol Bay Native Corporation
BBNC has distributed more than $200 million in shareholder dividends. For 2017, BBNC reported $1.659 billion in corporate revenues, with net earnings of $41.1 million. It paid $18.8 million in dividends. Two subsidiaries in BBNC’s petroleum distribution sector brought in revenue of $592.7 million.
Calista Corporation
Over the past eight years, Bethel-based Calista Corporation has more than doubled its annual revenue, which exceeded $480 million in FY2017. In FY2017, Calista paid $8.3 million in shareholder dividends Since its inception, Calista has paid $61.4 million in dividends.
Chugach Alaska Corporation
Chugach Alaska reports its 2017 revenue increased 9.2 percent compared to 2016 to approximately $920 million. Operating profit climbed to $35.8 million, a measurable increase of $10 million over 2016. In 2017, Chugach invested $2.6 million in shareholder programs and benefits. Over the past decade, the corporation has invested $57.6 million in benefits for its approximately 2,200 shareholders and their descendants.
Cook Inlet Region, Inc.
CIRI reported total revenue of $439 billion in 2017. In 2017, thanks to the Portage acquisition and other factors, North Wind’s revenue increased 65 percent over a one-year period, from $161.7 million in 2016 to $266.7 million in 2017. CIRI expects to pay $23.4 million in dividends.
Koniag, Inc.
Kodiak-based Koniag, Inc. continues to build on its success in the past several years. Koniag, which ended its 2018 fiscal year on March 31, reported total revenue of $267 million and $271 million for fiscal year 2017, with pre-tax earnings of $11.7 million and $6.5 million respectively.
NANA Regional Corporation
In FY2017, NANA reported $850 million in federal sector revenue and $206 million in commercial sector revenue, with $77.2 million in operations. Mineral exploration continues in the region, with Trilogy Metals spending $17 million.
In FY2017, NANA received $247 million in net proceeds from Red Dog Mine and $154.4 million was shared through 7(i).
Sealaska’s operations earned revenue of $293.4 million in 2017, significantly higher than its 2016 tally of $145.5 million. Sealaska’s combined net revenue exceeded $43 million in FY2017, a significant increase compared to 2016’s $14 million. Shareholder equity rose by $35.3 million in 2017 over 2016. It has increased by $61.5 million over the past four years, a significant recovery from losses in 2013.