Navajo Nation Member To GOP: Support Tribal Communities, Not Corporate Bailouts

By Arlando Teller

April 30, 2020

Arlando Teller is a member of the Navajo Nation and Arizona House of Representatives representing District 7.

As an Arizona state representative and member of the Navajo Nation, I’m deeply concerned by how Martha McSally is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If the Trump administration got its way, tribal communities would have received $0.00 in the most recent federal COVID-19 relief bill, according to reports.

Under Senate Majority Mitch McConnell’s leadership, Arizona’s junior U.S. Senator Martha McSallyvoted twice for an initial GOP version of a recent Senate relief bill that had little for tribal communities until Democrats like Senator Kyrsten Sinema fought for a funding increase. Tribal communities requested at least $20 billion to fund relief efforts in some of the hardest hit communities in the U.S.

The final version of the CARES Act delivered $8 billion for tribes — an improvement from the initial Republican proposal, but still a fraction of what tribal leaders estimated they need to fight the virus. 

Now, in a move that Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has rightly called bailing out “for-profit corporations” over tribal governments, the Trump administration is allowing for-profit corporations in Alaska to access CARES Act relief funding intended for tribal governments.

[This week, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington, D.C. blocked that effort, but that is only for now.]

RELATED: Tribes—Not Corporations—Will Get COVID-19 Relief Starting Today

Perhaps not so incidentally, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney, who’s part of the group distributing the funds, used to be an executive at one of the for-profit corporations that’s set to benefit from the decision. Tribal governments are already suing to intervene and stop the Trump administration.

In Arizona, Native Americans have been disproportionately hit by COVID-19 — driven by a dangerous and escalating situation in the Navajo Nation.

Longstanding infrastructure issues like food insecurity and food deserts, limited water access, and lack of broadband access, mean tribal communities need more relief, not less. 

Leaders like President Nez are working hard to contain and address this crisis, and showing exemplary leadership in this challenging time.

But we need the U.S. government to do its part, too. And Martha McSally must do more to fight for Indian Country — not just on protecting the relief funding that tribal governments are owed, but also on stopping the uranium mining industry’s attempt to use this pandemic to push for a taxpayer-funded bailout.

We need our other Senator, Martha McSally, to also speak up and speak out against the Trump administration’s attempts to withhold aid from our communities. Lives are at stake. 

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