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By Chad Bradley October 17, 2022

No, assistance to US tribal nations isn’t foreign aid

If Your Time is short

  • Republican Arizona Corporation Commission candidate Nick Myers said financial assistance given to tribal nations would be foreign aid.

  • Federally recognized tribal nations are sovereign "domestic dependent nations" within the United States and are not considered foreign governments.

  • Federal support in tribal areas mainly comes from the Interior Department. None comes from the State Department.

Renewable energy and the transition away from fossil fuels is a key issue for the Arizona Corporation Commission. In a recent debate, Republican candidate Nick Myers said that neither the state or utility rate-payers should compensate the Navajo Nation for the closing of a large coal-fired power plant near Page, Arizona. 

"It’s not the job of the rate-payers in Arizona to get into foreign aid," Myers said in the Sept. 12 debate on Arizona PBS. "If you’re talking about tribal lands, foreign aid comes under the federal government." 

Federal aid to tribal governments is not foreign aid.

Tribal nations are sovereign, not foreign

Although the Navajo Nation has "nation" in its name, it’s not considered a foreign government. The Supreme Court rulings of Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) and Worcester v. Georgia (1832) defined tribal nations as "domestic dependent nations." That applies to the 574 federally-recognized Native American tribes in the United States. 

The land of the Navajo Nation was originally inhabited by the indigenous Navajo. The American government took it away, and established the current reservation boundaries.

Through congressional acts such as the Indian Self-Determination and Education Act of 1975, federally recognized tribes are able to exercise greater sovereignty in their governmental affairs. The federal government provides some support for education, health and social services. 

The budgets of the State Department and the Interior Department for 2023 show the Interior Department has a dedicated Indian Affairs section. The State Department budget has no programs for tribal nations.

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Myers told PolitiFact that the National Congress of American Indians, an organization aimed at ensuring the rights of tribes, "seems to be proud of being independent, federally recognized nations." He added that the State Department says "they are responsible for making U.S. payments to international organizations."

Neither fact makes tribal groups eligible for foreign aid.

Coal plant closures impact tribal communities

In November 2019, the coal-fired power plant known as the Navajo Generating Station near Page, Arizona, and the Kayenta mine that provided the coal for the plant permanently closed. The closure impacted the surrounding community and the Navajo Nation, costing hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in lost revenue. 

The Arizona Corporation Commission held several meetings where residents from the Navajo Nation and neighboring Hopi Nation called for assistance to help transition to renewable energy and for economic recovery. No decision has been made, and the new members of the Arizona Corporation Commission are expected to face this issue in the future as other coal-fired power plants near the Navajo Nation are expected to close. 

Our Ruling

Myers said that financial assistance given to tribal nations falls under "foreign aid" which "comes under the federal government." 

The U.S. Supreme Court and the federal laws define 574 federally recognized tribal nations as "domestic dependent nations." Federal money for tribal governments mainly flows through the U.S. Interior Department and is not classified as foreign aid.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire.


Our Sources

Arizona PBS, Corporation Commission debate, Sept. 12, 2022

National Conference of State Legislatures, An Issue of Sovereignty, Jan. 2013

Arizona Republic, Navajo residents seek ‘just and equitable’ help after closure of power plant, coal mine, July 12, 2022

GovInfo, Budget of the United States Government, accessed Sept. 29, 2022

GovInfo, Department of the Interior budget FY 2023, accessed Sept. 29, 2022

GovInfo, Department of State and Other International Programs FY 2023 budget, accessed Sept. 29, 2022

United States Department of Justice, Federal Trust Doctrine first described by Supreme Court, accessed May 14, 2015

National Congress of American Indians, Mission and history, accessed Sept. 29, 2022

Email exchange, Nick Myers, Republican candidate, Arizona Corporation Commission, Oct. 4, 2022

Email exchange, Melissa Schwartz, communications director, U.S. Department of the Interior, Sept. 29, 2022

Email exchange, Department of State Press Office, Sept. 27, 2022


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No, assistance to US tribal nations isn’t foreign aid

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