Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

May 7, 2020

Navajos receive coronavirus funds after suing U.S., as cases and deaths increase

Navajo President Jonathan Nez honored Navajo Nation nurses with Nurses Appreciation Week, May 6 --10.
Photo by Navajo President's Office. 

The Navajo Nation receives coronavirus funds after filing a federal lawsuit to halt the U.S. from its funding scam to Interior Secretary's former employers

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WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. -- There were six more Navajo deaths and 95 new cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours. There are now 2,654 cases and 85 deaths on the Navajo Nation.

On Wednesday, the Navajo Nation received a portion of its coronavirus CARES Act funding after filing a lawsuit against the U.S. government.

The Navajo Nation and 10 other tribes filed suit to halt the U.S. government from giving the allocated $8 billion for Indian tribes to Alaska Native corporations, which are owned by shareholders which include non-Indians, and hold federal government contracts with ICE and detention centers, and contracts for work on energy projects and pipelines.

Navajo President Jonathan Nez said the Navajo Nation received approximately $600 million in CARES Act funding, which includes very specific guidelines and provisions from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

“The funding we received represents only a portion of the CARES Act allocation, approximately 60-percent according to the federal government. We are in the process of carefully reviewing the guidelines and provisions from the Department of the Treasury," President Nez said.

In April, the U.S District Court ruled in favor of the Navajo Nation and 10 other tribes who filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury regarding coronavirus federal funding.

Congress distributed $8 billion under the Coronavirus Relief Fund to help tribal governments. However, the Navajo Nation stated that the Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin planned to use the money to fund more than 230 Alaska Native corporations that are owned by shareholders, including those who are non-Indian. 

Interior official planned funds for her former employer, wealthy Alaska corporations

In April, Politico reported that a high-ranking Interior Department official was under fire over her role in securing access to billions of dollars in coronavirus aid for a handful of wealthy Alaska corporations, including one that previously employed her as a lobbyist and top executive.

"Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney is among a small group of Interior officials advising the Treasury Department on how to distribute $8 billion in rescue funding Congress earmarked for Native American tribes — an allocation that some lawmakers now say they intended solely for the 574 federally recognized tribes hit hard by the economic shutdown," Politico reported.

The Navajo Nation has by far the largest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in Indian country.

As of today, there are 18 cases of coronavirus in the IHS service unit in Alaska, according to IHS data. On the Navajo Nation, there are 2,654 cases with 85 deaths.

The grassroots Navajo Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief continued its supplies deliveries this week, shown here at Dine' College. Photo by Varz Ella.
The grassroots Navajo Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief continues to provide emergency food, water and supplies on the Navajo and Hopi Nations. With solidarity from Ireland, the volunteer group has received more than $2.9 million in donations.

President Nez said on Wednesday, "The Executive Branch advocated strongly through lobbying efforts at the congressional level and through the media and we took the federal government to court to get these funds and now we have to be able to account for all of it."

"This can’t be a free-for-all spending spree. $600 million may sound like a lot, but we have to remember that the infrastructure needs of the Navajo Nation alone amount to billions of dollars. When the Nation received settlement funds years ago, the Navajo Nation held public hearings and identified infrastructure, housing, and scholarship funding as top priorities, so we know what the needs are already,” President Nez said.

In his press statement, Navajo President Nez said:

On Wednesday, the Office of the President and Vice President continued distributing food, water, and other supplies to 328 Navajo families in the communities of Alamo and Ramah, N.M. Precautions were taken as items were placed in vehicles by staff members with no direct contact with the local residents.

“As we approach another 57-hour weekend curfew, everyone needs to prepare and that doesn’t mean rushing into public and crowding grocery stores.

Let’s be mindful of others when we are purchasing food and other essential items. Please do not take your children into public and please wear masks and practice social distancing at all times,” said Vice President Myron Lizer.

On Wednesday, President Nez and Vice President Lizer issued a proclamation declaring May 6 – 10, 2020 as “Navajo Nation Nurses Appreciation Week” to honor and pay tribute to all nurses and health care workers for their contributions and hard work to save lives across the Navajo Nation.

“We thank all of the frontline workers and that includes all of the nurses, doctors, and many other hospital workers. You are the answers to our prayers. You are our warriors and our heroes fighting to save the lives of our Navajo people,” President Nez said.

The 2,654 confirmed positive cases on the Navajo Nation include the following counties:

· McKinley County, NM: 736
· Apache County, AZ: 656
· Navajo County, AZ: 574
· Coconino County, AZ: 306
· San Juan County, NM: 262
· San Juan County, UT: 46
· Socorro County, NM: 25
· Cibola County, NM: 25
· Bernalillo County: 3
· Sandoval County, NM: 21

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