A new resource for tribal officials

Comprehensive resources webpage shares valuable tools and policy insights for Michigan’s 12 sovereign nations impacted by novel coronavirus

A picture of an eagle.

Michigan has a long history of habitation by the Odawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi tribes, collectively known as the “Anishnaabek.” The Anishnaabek, calling Michigan home for many centuries, share common cultural practices and an oral language called Anishinaabemowin. Each tribe shares common community roots and ties to the land. The tribes have their own unique structure of government, including a formal acknowledgement of land used by families and villages, and political identities that vary from village to village. These similarities and differences guide each tribe as it responds to the challenge of novel coronavirus, the virus that causes the infectious disease COVID-19.

There are 12 federally recognized tribal nations in Michigan. All 12 have taken governmental action as sovereign nations to address the global pandemic public health crisis of the novel coronavirus. These various actions include declaring states of emergency, issuing shelter-at-home and other orders such as changes to operations of services and voluntary closures of many tribal business enterprises such as casinos, resorts, and restaurants.

Like neighboring governments such as the State of Michigan, tribal, or ‘native sovereign nation’ governments are responding with the well being of their citizens, communities, employees, and customers in mind, but face unique financial challenges in navigating response. As an example of these challenges, the Pokagon Band located in southern Michigan, is currently making difficult decisions regarding the impact that a loss of tribal revenue has on employment, social services, and the wider Michigan economy:

Unlike state and local governments which predominately use tax dollars to operate, Native Sovereign Nations rely on revenue from business ventures to fund critical services and programs for their citizens including healthcare, housing, education, family services, financial support, elder care, police, courts and more. We have a 10-county service area and also provide medical care to other Native Americans that seek our services. Including our Four Winds Casino locations and Tribal Government, we are one of the largest employers in Michiana employing over 3,000 people and we support hundreds of area and local businesses. Without revenue, we lose our ability to serve the individuals that rely on us for these important services as well as employment. Unfortunately, with our casinos closed indefinitely, we are forced to make some difficult decisions. Source: http://www.pokagonband-nsn.gov/coronavirus-update)

Navigating emerging novel coronavirus response resources

To address novel coronavirus challenges, native sovereign nations have been in communication with federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Affairs (BIA) to discuss “…issues and recommendations on matters related to taxation and economic development in Indian Country.” It wasn’t until May 5, 2020, that a press release from Treasury and BIA announced that the first portion of the CARES Act funds was going to be released. The U.S. Department of Treasury and BIA also shared the formula that was used to disperse the two waves of funds. Inter-tribal organizations are also responding to the novel coronavirus by developing resources such as the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) COVID-19 Resources for Indian Country website that includes federal legislative and policy updates on how policies like H.R.748 - Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act specifically impact tribal nations navigating through novel coronavirus.

New in 2020, Michigan State University Extension offers tribal officials a novel coronavirus resources webpage that includes a comprehensive list of news and updates, policy articles, links to additional MSU Extension and MSU resources, direct links to the COVID-19 pages of 10 Michigan tribes, and links from a national perspective. The site is updated regularly, providing visitors with a complete toolbox for navigating known novel coronavirus impacts on tribal operations, budgeting and policy. Click here to visit the new MSUE Tribal COVID 19 Resources webpage.

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