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News Release

Sealaska Heritage Institute

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will sponsor a lecture on Tuesday on an attempt by tribes to disqualify Alaska Native corporations from receiving CARES Act funding as part of a series on Southeast Alaska Native history in honor of Native American Heritage Month.

The talk, ANCSA Corporations as “Indian tribes” Under Federal Indian Law and the Constitution, will be given by Chris E. McNeil, Jr., former president and CEO of Sealaska, a regional Native corporation established under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA).

The Chehalis Tribe and other tribes challenged the status of Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act corporations as “Indian tribes” under the CARES Act. Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act corporations were specifically included in CARES by reference to a definition of an “Indian tribe” in the Indian Self-Determination and Educational Assistance Act (ISDA). The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, wherein the Court agreed with the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act corporations that they were included as “Indian tribes” under ISDA and therefore qualified for CARES funding. This discussion will explore an alternative theory, not raised in the litigation, that Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act corporations are also Indian tribes under the Constitution, McNeil wrote.

Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act corporations have been recognized as tribes by the federal government for special statutory purposes, such as financial benefits and land benefits, but are not “sovereign” entities with government-to-government relationships with the federal government, which is an authority held only by federally-recognized tribes.

The lecture is scheduled at noon Alaska time, Tuesday, November 30. All lectures will be streamed at 12 p.m. to the Sealaska Heritage YouTube channel. A Q&A session will follow.

About the Lecturer

Chris E. McNeil, Jr., is the owner of Native Strategy Group, which provides advisory services to Native organizations. He is Eagle of the Dakl'aweidí (Killerwhale) House, and his Tlingit name is Shaakakóoni. He served as the president and CEO of Sealaska from 2001 until 2014. Originally from Juneau, McNeil served Sealaska in varying officer capacities from 1978 through 1993, including executive vice president and general counsel and as a member of the board of directors from 1998 through 2000.

Other positions McNeil has held include special counsel to the Alaska Federation of Natives; chairman of the Native American Rights Fund; the first director of American Indian Program at Stanford University; second vice president of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska; director of Goldbelt, Incorporated; director of the American Indian National Bank; president of the Juneau Tlingit & Haida Community Council; chairman of Tlingit & Haida Regional Housing Authority; Washington representative and counsel to the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation of Connecticut; and chairman of the Native American Contractor’s Association.

McNeil earned a law degree from Stanford University, a master’s in political science from Yale University, and a BA in political science from Stanford University. He was also an inductee into the Stanford University Multicultural Alumni Hall of Fame and was awarded the Henry Roe Cloud medal from the Association of Native Americans at Yale, and the Alaska Federation of Natives Citizen of the Year. He is a member of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and a citizen of the Nisga’a Nation. McNeil and his wife Mary, an enrolled member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, have two grown children and two grandchildren.

This program is provided under the Preparing Indigenous Teachers and Administrators for Alaska Schools (PITAAS) program and funded by the Alaska Native Education Program.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. Sealaska Heritage Institute also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history, and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee, and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.