The ANCSA Regional Association Board of Directors
Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act Regional Association

Next week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Yellen v. Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, which will determine whether Alaska Native regional and village corporations, established pursuant to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), are “Indian tribe[s]” for purposes of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act.

As leaders of Alaska Native corporations (ANCs), we want to make clear why we took our fight for our people and communities to the nation’s highest court.

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act marked a new congressional approach to federal Indian policy. It extinguished Aboriginal land title in Alaska and mandated the creation of for-profit entities, which Congress termed “Alaska Native corporations.” These corporations were tasked with promoting the social, cultural, and economic advancement of their Alaska Native people and communities in perpetuity.

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act also mandated Alaska Native corporations be owned by enrolled Alaska Native shareholders. Unlike in the lower 48 states where the reservation system was the norm, Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act departed significantly – its foundation was in Alaska Native corporate ownership. Congress set us up differently from tribes in the lower 48; our structure is not better or worse, it is just different. Alaska Native corporations are one critical part of the unique constellation of Alaska Native organizations providing Alaska Native people access to a broad network of economic and social support.

This support – guaranteed by the United States government to current and future generations of Alaska Native people and our communities – is, regrettably, under threat by a lawsuit that would leave Alaska Native people with less than their fair share of federal resources at a time when those resources are needed most.

As it stands, the federal government recently enacted a sixth round of relief to help ease the economic and social damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While millions of Americans receive another round of direct benefits, many Alaska Native people are still waiting to receive support from the first round passed in March of last year.

In the CARES Act, Congress set aside $8 billion for Indigenous organizations across the U.S. The language used in the CARES Act legislation explicitly included Alaska Native corporations to allow our organizations to provide for and deliver upon, our congressional mandates to support our Alaska Native shareholders and communities.

While much of the debate to date has centered around the definition of a “tribe,” we fear what is being lost: an acknowledgement of the way these programs have been allocated to include Alaska Native corporations for nearly 50 years, and the urgent needs and harsh conditions Alaska Native people are dealing with every day amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rural Alaska is the definition of remote. Many of our rural villages are only accessible by boat or airplane, making it difficult to access medical care and essential supplies even under the best of conditions. 

Some of our villages lack running water or have limited supplies of potable water, making COVID-19 hygiene guidelines impossible to follow. 

And many communities lack a reliable broadband connection, leaving our children unable to participate in virtual learning while schools are closed. 

Our organizations have stepped in whenever possible to fill these gaps, but the needs in our communities remain great. We continue to fight this litigation to ensure we can provide relief to our people in the short term and, more importantly, to ensure we are able to deliver the vital programs and services Congress intended us to deliver via the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in the long term.

Including Alaska Native corporations is not asking the Supreme Court to interpret CARES Act language in a new or groundbreaking way. We’re simply asking the Court to ensure that language in the law is executed the same way it has been for decades – and as Congress intended it to be when Alaska’s unique service model of distinct Alaska Native organizations was established through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

Alaska Native corporations and Alaska Native people deserve an equitable path forward, which includes the same federal support that’s been received by Indigenous communities across the United States. 

We hope the Supreme Court and our Indigenous peers will respect our way of life and honor the unique service model of distinct Alaska Native organizations that governs the Alaskan way of life.

We look forward to the opportunity of our side being heard. At the end of the day, we are asking for our people to be treated fairly.

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act Regional Association board of directors is composed of the presidents and chief executive officers of the twelve land-based Alaska Native regional corporations that were created pursuant to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. ARA member corporations are owned by over 130,000 Alaska Native shareholders. The board includes:

Aaron Schutt - President & CEO, Doyon, Limited

Gail Schubert - President & CEO, Bering Straits Native Corporation (BSNC)

Sophie Minich - President & CEO, Cook Inlet Region, Incorporated (CIRI)

Thomas Mack, President & CEO, Aleut Corporation

Michelle Anderson - President, Ahtna, Incorporated

Rex Rock, Sr. - President & CEO, Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC)

Jason Metrokin - President & CEO, Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC)

Andrew Guy - President & CEO, Calista Corporation

Sheri Buretta - Interim President & CEO, Chugach Alaska Corporation

Shauna Hegna - President, Koniag

Bill Monet - Interim President & CEO, NANA Regional Corporation (NANA)

Anthony Mallott - Sealaska Corporation, President & CEO

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