Alaska Delegation Responds to Slanderous Attacks on Assistant Secretary, Alaska Native Corporations

U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Congressman Don Young (all R-Alaska) today responded to misguided efforts seeking to prevent Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) from being eligible for tribal assistance appropriated through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The delegation also defended Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs, Tara Sweeney, from baseless personal attacks over her status as an Alaska Native shareholder, which is part of her birthright under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971. Sweeney is the only Alaska Native serving in a congressionally confirmed position, which has led some to target her with false and slanderous accusations.

“Tara Sweeney is doing an outstanding job as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. Barely two weeks ago, Congress unanimously agreed that ANCs should be eligible for funding under the CARES Act and we expect Treasury to uphold and follow the law,” said Senator Murkowski. “I’m extremely disappointed by the personal attacks and baseless allegations against Assistant Secretary Sweeney, including those from Senator Chuck Schumer earlier today. Those attacks betray a complete lack of awareness of Interior’s role in supporting Treasury when it comes to implementing this program. They also betray an utter lack of understanding of what Native Corporations are, why Congress created them, and the purpose they serve in Alaska. Trying to hold any person’s tribal affiliation or similar congressionally established status against them for political purposes is simply gross and a new low. Assistant Secretary Sweeney’s ANCSA affiliation is her birthright. It’s part of her identity as an Alaska Native, similar to tribal enrollment, and should not be used against her based on crass partisan motives.”

“As our small businesses suffer and as the Payment Protection Program has run out of money, it’s extremely disappointing that Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and others are spending their time attacking Assistant Secretary Tara Sweeney. Secretary Sweeney is a woman of impeccable integrity who is working day in and day out for America’s First Peoples,” said Senator Sullivan. “Senator Schumer—as well as every senator and an overwhelming majority of congressmen who voted for the CARES Act—signed off on the standard, 40 plus-year-old definition of Indian tribes, which includes Alaska Native village and regional corporations. This is not controversial, particularly for anyone who knows anything about these issues. What is controversial, and frankly shameful, is to try to smear a dedicated public servant who is doing her duty by implementing the law and the definition of Indian tribes that Congress mandated. What is also shameful is having members of Congress trying to deprive Alaska Native communities much-needed funds to fight the pandemic. I’ll continue to fight these misguided efforts to besmirch Assistant Secretary Sweeney and harm our Alaska Native communities.”

“The legislative text of the CARES Act was available out in the open throughout the drafting process before it went on to pass 96-0 in the Senate, and by voice vote in the House. The time to express concerns over the bill was then, not weeks after its passage and enactment. Let me make this very clear: Alaska Native Corporations not only fit the bill’s definition for funding eligibility, but for decades have been empowering Alaska Natives by providing economic opportunity, education, and vital services to Native communities across our State. The CARES Act did not prescribe apportionment of the funding, and I am confident that our federal agencies will determine a fair and equitable distribution of these critical funds that takes into account the fact that Alaska has both tribes and ANCs,” said Congressman Young. “Assistant Secretary Tara Sweeney has spent her career advocating for all Indigenous peoples, and continues to do so. The very suggestion that she used her influence to secure the inclusion of ANCs in the tribal set aside is outrageous and, very frankly, a fundamental misunderstanding of the legislative process. Congress drafted and passed the bill; as Assistant Secretary, Tara Sweeney and other federal officials implement the law as written, using the eligibility definitions that already exist on the books. Sweeney is a champion for the economic and social well-being of our First Peoples, and has achieved great things as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. As the first Alaska Native to ever hold this position, she is a trailblazer and a role model for future generations of Indigenous leaders. I am proud to serve with her and honored to call her a friend.”

Earlier this week, the delegation sent a letter to the administration calling on the Treasury Department to take into consideration the unique legal framework and circumstances in Alaska. The delegation urged flexibility for each tribe to choose how it receives and administers the payments. Their letter also provides historical background on Alaska regional corporations, which are made eligible for CARES Act assistance through the definition of “Indian tribe” used in the bill.

Click here for the letter.

Related Issues: Alaska Natives & Rural Alaska