Alaska tribes clarify corporation's non-sovereign status
Supreme Court ruling that gave corporations tribal status caused confusion regarding sovereignty
October 26, 2022
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that Alaska Native corporations are tribes but not federally recognized sovereign tribes. Since then, both tribal and business leaders have tried to sort out what the ruling means for corporate and tribal rights and responsibilities.
The issue stems from the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act in which Congress allocated $8 billion for tribes. The Treasury Department set aside $500 million of that for Alaska Native for-profit corporations.
Tribes, some from Alaska and some from the Lower 48 states, sued saying Native corporations don’t meet the definition of federally recognized tribes, which have inherent sovereignty. Tribes argued the corporations shouldn’t get the money because their main purpose is to make profits, not provide social services. They also expressed concern that recognizing the corporations as tribes would lead to pressure from corporations to assume more tribal rights.