Senators, Representatives Call on President to Uphold Trust and Treaty Responsibilities to Tribes

WASHINGTON, D.C. [04/02/20]—U.S. Senator Tina Smith—a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee—(D-Minn.) urged the President on Wednesday to make sure federal agencies implement Tribal provisions of the third coronavirus relief package, known as the CARES Act, in a way that upholds the federal trust and treaty responsibilities to Tribes and includes meaningful consultation with Tribes.

Sen. Smith—along with a group of 18 senators and 12 U.S. representatives led by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M)—sent the letter to President Trump following enactment of the CARES Act, which includes over $10 billion in resources for Native communities’ COVID-19 response.

“The U.S. government has specific trust and treaty responsibilities to American Indians and Alaska Natives, responsibilities that all federal agencies share equally. Implementation of the CARES Act will require many federal agencies within DOI, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Treasury, the Small Business Administration, and others to work directly with Indian Country on implementation of complicated new authorities and deployment of critical funding,” wrote the senators.

“It is therefore incumbent upon these agencies to respect the inherent sovereignty of Indian Tribes and show deference to Tribal views, particularly as they relate to the use and distribution of CARES Act resources and the Tribal Coronavirus Relief Fund that will make an enormous difference in the everyday lives of their members and communities,” the senators continued. “This can only be accomplished by engaging in meaningful, robust, and – given the nature of this pandemic crisis – rapid government-to-government consultation.”

In addition to Sens. Smith and Udall, the letter was signed by Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Steven Daines (R-Mont.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). The letter was also signed by U.S. Representatives Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), Tom Cole (R-Okla.), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), Paul Cook (R-Calif.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), David Joyce (R-Ohio), Sharice Davids (D-Kansas), Don Young (R-Alaska), Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.) and Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.).

You can access full text of the letter here or below:

Dear Mr. President,

The CARES Act is landmark legislation that provides critical relief to Tribal governments impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the Administration undertakes its work to implement this new law, we write to respectfully request that federal resources be deployed expeditiously to Indian Country in a manner consistent with—

–      The federal government’s trust and treaty responsibilities;

–      Respect for Tribal sovereignty; and

–      The principles of meaningful government-to-government consultation.

The U.S. government has specific trust and treaty responsibilities to American Indians and Alaska Natives, responsibilities that all federal agencies share equally. Implementation of the CARES Act will require many federal agencies within DOI, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Treasury, the Small Business Administration, and others to work directly with Indian Country on implementation of complicated new authorities and deployment of critical funding.

It is therefore incumbent upon these agencies to respect the inherent sovereignty of Indian Tribes and show deference to Tribal views, particularly as they relate to the use and distribution of CARES Act resources and the Tribal Coronavirus Relief Fund that will make an enormous difference in the everyday lives of their members and communities. This can only be accomplished by engaging in meaningful, robust, and – given the nature of this pandemic crisis – rapid government-to-government consultation.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to continuing our work with your Administration to ensure Indian Country is included in our national COVID-19 response.

Sincerely,