It is almost always about the money when somebody says it is not about the money, but in the case of two gaming tribes who are suing U.S. Department of Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, it seems to be more about standing up to the federal government.
Attorneys for the Miccosukee Indians of Florida and the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation of Kansas appeared two weeks ago in a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. to request more funds for expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Miccosukees are seeking about $2m and the Prairie Band wants about $5m.
“Thus far, we’ve received only about $1m,” Miccosukee attorney George Abney told U.S. Circuit Judges J. Michelle Childs and Judith Rogers during oral arguments on September 29.
The amounts sought by the two tribes seem to be chump change considering the $2.2trn Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020 included about $8bn for federally-recognized tribes.
“This is more about taking on the man in D.C.,” said a tribal gaming lobbyist who requested anonymity.
“These tribes think the Treasury Department shortchanged them, and they want to show their members they will fight for what is rightfully theirs.”
The Treasury Department revised the methodology for CARES Act funding and distributed enough money to persuade the Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, which also has gaming operations, to drop out of the lawsuit. The Shawnees received $5.2m.
But the Miccosukee and Prairie Band Tribes are going forward with their lawsuit.
The Treasury Department did not respond to an email seeking comment.
This is just the latest chapter in a saga which pitted tribe against tribe after former President Donald Trump signed the CARES Act into law on March 27, 2020.
Gaming tribes in the lower 48 states argued Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs), which represent Alaskan tribes, received too much money from the CARES Act.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the tribes in the lower 48 states in a 3-0 decision on September 25, 2020.
But the Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision on June 25, 2021, reversed the circuit court’s ruling and held the ANCs were allowed to keep the money they received from the CARES Act.