AFN Clarifies Alaska Native Corporations Not Sovereign Governments

Aug 23, 2023 | News

At its Annual Convention in October 2022 the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) passed a resolution recognizing that Alaskan Native Corporations are not sovereign governments.  AFN took the action in response to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2020 (CARES Act) which provided $8 billion in COVID-19 relief for tribal governments.  Under the CARES Act, Treasury set aside $500 million for state chartered for-profit Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs).  This issue went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In June of 2021, the Supreme Court found in Yellen v. Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation found that ANCs were eligible to receive funding under the CARES Act.  The Court rules that ANCs could receive the funding because the CARES Act used the definition of “tribes” under the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act.  This definition includes ANCs, but resulted in confusion about the status of Alaskan Native Corporations.

In contrast to ANCs, federally recognized tribal governments are sovereign entities exercising jurisdiction and providing services to their members.  This includes Alaska Native tribal governments, but not ANCs.  AFN took action to address concerns among federally recognized tribal governments and to affirm the sovereignty of Alaska Native tribes. The AFN resolution is available here.

The AFN resolution recognizes “that Alaska Native corporations are not sovereign governments nor are they seeking sovereignty.”  AFN also asked that other tribes recognize the unique model established under Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act which provides critical services to Alaska Native people promised by the federal government.

AFN is the largest statewide Native organization in Alaska. Its membership includes 209 federally recognized tribes, 185 village corporations, 9 regional corporations, and 10 regional nonprofit and tribal consortiums that contract and compact to run federal and state programs.

Patterson Earnhart Real Bird & Wilson LLP is dedicated to the representation of American Indian tribes, tribal entities, and individual Indians across the United States. Our mission is to support and advance the sovereignty, self-sufficiency, and self-governance of our tribal clients.

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