Supreme Court Rules Alaska Native Corporations Eligible for CARES Act Tribal Relief

U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, and Congressman Don Young, all R-Alaska, today welcomed a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Yellen v. Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation that upholds the decades-long inclusion of Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) as “Indian tribes” under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDA)—also known as ISDEAA, confirming ANC eligibility for the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) tribal set-aside within Title V of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act.

“Today, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed what we knew all along—that when Congress used the definition of “Indian Tribe” from the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act in the CARES Act, it absolutely made Alaska Native Corporations eligible for these coronavirus relief funds. We knew this, because we wrote this language in the CARES Act. In addition to equitable pandemic relief, this decision ensures Alaska Natives will continue to benefit from the unique but effective delivery of health care, housing, and many other public services authorized under numerous statutes using ISDA’s definition of an Indian tribe, which the D.C. Circuit ruling threatened to destabilize. Once again, the Supreme Court made it clear: Alaska is different – the exception, not the rule. This 6-3 decision is a big victory for Alaska Natives who have long relied on multiple layers of service delivery, which include the federally-recognized Tribes, ANCs, and other tribal organizations. We were proud to file amicus briefs to support upholding the 45 years of precedent and practice that support our Alaska Native communities.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote the opinion of the court, was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Stephen Breyer, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, and, in parts, by Justice Samuel Alito.


  • On March 27, 2020, the CARES Act was signed into law, including an $8 billion set-aside for tribal governments.
  • On April 14, 2020, the Alaska congressional delegation wrote to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt detailing the unique legal framework and circumstances for tribal entities in Alaska. The letter provided a historical background on Alaska regional corporations, which are made eligible for CARES Act assistance because of the definition of “Indian tribe” used in the bill.
  • In April of 2020 several tribes filed lawsuits to prevent CARES Act funds from being distributed to ANCs.
  • On April 23, 2020, the delegation penned an op-ed in the Anchorage Daily News to correct the mischaracterizations about ANCs and explain why the entities are eligible for CARES Act funds.
  • On June 26, 2020, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta ruled ANCs are eligible for the aid. Judge Mehta based his decision on the definition of “Indian tribe” provided by the 1975 Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act and used in the CARES Act, which included ANCs.
  • On September 25, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned the June 26 ruling and determined ANCs are ineligible for tribal assistance appropriated by the CARES Act.
  • In November of 2020, the Alaska congressional delegation filed an amicus curiae brief urging the Supreme Court to grant the petition for a writ of certiorari in support of ANC eligibility for tribal assistance appropriated by the CARES Act. The amicus brief warns that the indigenous peoples of Alaska will suffer significant negative consequences as a result of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ September 25, 2020 decision, which held that ANCs are ineligible for the CARES Act CRF tribal set-aside. The D.C. Circuit Court’s decision, the delegation argued, destabilizes agency and legislative practice in place for over 40 years as well as systems in place that deliver programs and services to Alaska Natives across the state.
  • On February 26, 2021, the Alaska delegation filed an amicus brief in support of the ANCs on the merits of the case.