American Indian Tribes have a unique relationship with the U.S. government. Though Tribal citizens are also U.S. citizens, Tribes are sovereign nations with whom the U.S. government interacts on a government-to-government basis.  For instance, under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Act of 1975, the Secretary of the Interior can form self-determination contracts with Tribal governments, thereby allowing Tribes to provide their citizens with services that otherwise would have been provided by the federal government.   In Virginia, there are currently seven federally-recognized Tribes, six of which gained federal recognition with the passage of the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2017.


            At Cultural Heritage Partners, I have had the opportunity to work for Virginia Tribes.  In particular, much of my work as a summer associate relates to appropriations to Tribal governments under the American Rescue Plan Act.  In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress allocated billions of dollars to relief efforts through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the CARES Act) and the American Rescue Plan Act (The ARPA).  Both Acts reserve a significant funds for Tribal governments.  For instance, the ARPA appropriates twenty billion dollars through Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to Tribal governments to respond to economic and health consequences of the pandemic.  This constitutes an important moment for Tribal governments across the country. 


            As is the case with any piece of major legislation, however, its passage only marks the beginning of a much longer process.  This summer I have had the opportunity to explore the myriad steps between the passage of legislation and its effectuation.  Though the Treasury Department provides guidance on how Tribal, state, and local governments may spend these funds, I have now confronted firsthand the ways in which rules and regulations - no matter how comprehensive or detailed- inevitably leave a great deal unspecified, unexplained, or contradictory.  In general, Treasury grants Tribal governments flexibility in spending these funds, “in recognition of the disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on health outcomes in low-income and Native American communities and the importance of mitigating these effects.” Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, 86 Fed. Reg. 26,876 at 26,791.  Tribal governments therefore are now deciding how to best respond to the pandemic in a way that creates a long-lasting impact in Tribal communities. 


See also:  (quoting CHP founding partner, Marion Werkheiser)