Michigan tribes set to receive millions in federal coronavirus relief

Hard hit by lost casino revenue and high unemployment, Michigan’s 12 federally-recognized Native American tribes will soon get help from the federal government. (Shutterstock photo)

Twelve federally-recognized Michigan tribes are now set to receive a share of $4.8 billion in coronavirus relief funds from the federal government. The payments are critical to tribal governments and members, who have been hard-hit by the closure of casinos during the pandemic. 

A May 5 joint statement by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced the release of $4.8 billion in Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars to Native American nations across the United States.

The eventual total of relief funds for Native American tribes is $8 billion.

News of the funds received mixed reactions from Michigan tribal leaders.

On Facebook, Chairman Aaron Payment announced Wednesday that the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians received a little over $37 million in federal funds. The money will go toward “necessary” expenses for tribal COVID-19 medical response as well as support for sick leave, food delivery and rent costs.

I am happy that tribes are finally able to receive Federal support,” Sault Tribe Unit 1 Director Jennifer McLeod told Bridge. “The amount won’t cover all of our expenses due to COVID-19, but I am relieved and grateful. It will be put to good use, and will ensure the safety of our team members and our communities.”

With tribal-operated casinos closed because of the pandemic, tribal governments have been bleeding cash. Many tribal members who work for the tribal governments or casinos have been laid off.

Bay Mills Indian Community received $2.7 million. Tribal Chairman Newland criticized the distribution of funds, calling it “inequitable and problematic on a number of fronts. But, the funds are going out and there isn't much that can be done after that fact.”

Until now, tribes haven’t received any of the funding due to previous guidelines about tribal gaming and a lawsuit brought to federal court over whether the Alaska Native Corporations, which are not tribal governments but support Native American villages in Alaska, are entitled to some of the money. Starting this week, $4.8 billion will go to tribal governments, with another $3.2 billion distributed later as more data about employee numbers and coronavirus impact among the tribes emerges. 

The funding allotment is also based on tribal enrollment figures. 

Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, consisting of 785 citizens, received $400,000, the least among all Michigan tribes. Tribal spokeswoman Alice Brunk called it “heartbreaking.” She cited the fact that the federal government used dated and inaccurate 2010 U.S. Census statistics on household self-reporting category of race. 

“For tribal leaders, our number one goal is to take care of our community,” Brunk said. “We’re doing all we can to keep our people safe and to help with education, food and bills. The $400,000 could not support one month of the government building payments alone. It’s not enough money.”

Even with the $400,000, Brunk worries that Lac Vieux will still have to make difficult decisions about staff cuts. 

“We have to look at things like if we are going to have to cut our services or cut our government offices and staff down more than we already have,” she said. “Some tribes did fairly well, and some of us are just going to have to be very creative.”

On the White House website, the administration of President Donald Trump outlined the steps it is taking to combat coronavirus in Native American communities, including supporting and expanding the Indian Health Service.


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Good Lord!
Thu, 05/07/2020 - 1:27pm

Live by the casino, die by the casino. How fitting that the president who bankrupted casinos as a private citizen, destroyed the whole industry as president. Now our tax dollars will bail them out? Hey, Rep Chatfield are casinos essential businesses? What does it say about them in the Bible?

Old Testament
Thu, 05/07/2020 - 1:37pm

Wait, I'm Christian. My tax dollars are bailing out casinos?

Amash 2020
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 3:35am

You got that right. Why would we bailout casinos? They don't make enough money to whether this downturn? Big government needs to go into debt for casinos? This is NOT what We the People want.

Say No to Mammon
Thu, 05/07/2020 - 1:39pm

The wrath of God will continue to reign on our nation with plagues of disease, fires, flooding, earthquakes, tornadoes, invasive species, killer wasps.

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 1:42pm

Casinos steal from the poor and give to the rich. What kind of industry is that? How many "winners" blow the money on prostitutes? You can create jobs that the devil likes or jobs that God likes. You choose, Mr Trump!

End of times
Thu, 05/07/2020 - 1:44pm

Our taxes are supporting the tribes of Sodom and Gomorrah. Where are the protesters who love Jesus?

middle of the mit
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 4:33pm

I have to ask ,where did you get the idea native tribes are tribes of Sodom and Gomorrah? Last I knew those were cities not a people. And despite what some say about why they were destroyed by God, what they claim was the reason, was the last straw. They forget to mention that Abraham pleaded and bargained to save the cities before the angels of the Lord went into the cities.


'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. 50; They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.

And this money isn't going to the casinos. It is going to the Tribes. They are very poor to begin with and they also have been one of the hardest hit communities with this virus. Not just here in MI but especially in NM, AZ and the plains states.

I agree with Matt that a better picture could've been used for this article. This has nothing to do with casinos. It has to do with fact that most tribal income comes from casinos. I don't believe that is the fault of the Tribes.

Sat, 05/09/2020 - 4:14pm

It's time they stop doing the devil's work.

middle of the mit
Sun, 05/10/2020 - 7:08pm

If casinos are the devils work, but job creators and the economy is built upon where people are willing to spend their mammon, who is allowing these people who do the devils work to continue doing it?

Inquiring minds..

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 6:10am

I think the picture on this article is disgraceful. Tribes are complex historical and cultural groups, and Bridge has chosen to represent their existence with a picture of a casino floor. Please rethink that image.

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 4:15pm

The article is literally about bailing out the casinos of these sovereign nations, Matt.

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 8:54am

The picture of the slot machines to represent the entirety of the tribal community is not respectful. Please remove it.

First sentence
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 4:18pm

"Twelve federally-recognized Michigan tribes are now set to receive a share of $4.8 billion in coronavirus relief funds from the federal government. The payments are critical to tribal governments and members, who have been hard-hit by the closure of casinos during the pandemic."

Hey Matt, the article is about US welfare for native casinos. The truth hurts? Trying to spin this somehow?

middle of the mit
Sun, 05/10/2020 - 7:05pm


This is the title of the post you are commenting on.


This is the title of the article that has something to do with casinos.

Can you see the difference?

It is literally spelled out by YOU in YOUR own post. As seen here:

"Twelve federally-recognized Michigan tribes are now set to receive a share of $4.8 billion in coronavirus relief funds from the federal government. The payments are critical to tribal governments and members, who have been hard-hit by the closure of casinos during the pandemic."//////

So...do you see anything there that says anything about casinos? Except for the last words, the tribes have been hit hard by closures of the casinos.

Doesn't say the money is going to the casinos, does it?

Get your facts straight!

And if you don't like casinos, don't ever visit one again.

I don't.

It's not that hard.

What I would like to see the Tribal community do is establish a website so that they can sell their traditional items online. Maybe there is already one that I don't know about. But chances are they are in the same position as most poor Americans. They live in areas that don't have internet access. Or sporadic access.

I will be looking into it though and searching for them.

I am tired of buying moderately priced moccasins and watching them fall apart after 6 months.

Can a native help me out?


And why complain even IF the casinos were to get bailed out? Who frequents them?

Do you have the same problem bailing out the White mans casino of Fall Street?

Oh no! That is centered in the liberal tax hole of Manhattan!

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 9:12am

Do the Casinos pay any Federal or State Taxes? Just asking...I do not know the answer.

Welfare for rich
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 4:22pm

NO, they don't.

Gaming on Native American lands earned $26.5 billion in 2011. 236 Native American tribes operate 422 facilities across 28 states. Yet Native American tribes and their wholly owned tribal corporations are not subject to federal income taxes on their earnings.

Some types of tax-exempt organizations are taxed on some types of income. Tribes are exempt from federal income taxes even when conducting commercial activities. They can form corporations to conduct business and their income remains exempt.

Absent an express authorization from Congress, states do not have the power to tax Native Americans living on a reservation whose income is derived from reservation sources.

Mon, 05/11/2020 - 11:52am

Thank you....it seems that they do not pay a fair share of tax, but they are going to get bail out funds anyway....once again our leaders are not thinking very well.

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 4:24pm

Yes, they pay some state taxes, but a pittance and with exceptions.

Lord Von Cheeto
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 1:49pm

There is so much dumb in the below comments i don’t know where to start. Comprehension must not be a full trait of the Bible thumping hypocrites. They give the other Good Christians a bad name...kind of like Lord Cheeto and his “two Chorinthians” manipulation of the far right Christian nut jobs. Someone tell the moron in chief that it is “2nd Corinthians” hen maybe would belie his attempt to pass as a Christian. But alas...the simpleton Christian hypocrites will still be manipulated by the likes of Jim Baker dressed as an Oval Office attendee.

Gambling a sin?
Sat, 05/09/2020 - 4:16pm

Me thinks so.

middle of the mit
Sun, 05/10/2020 - 6:26pm

Ever been in a casino? Indian or not?

Those people you see at the slot machines, tables and bar are mostly not Native American. They are mostly white.

What does that tell you?