Sault Tribe allocates money from American Rescue Act

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SAULT TRIBE RESERVATION, Mich. (WJMN) – According to a press release, the Sault Tribe Board of Directors has appropriated $91 million of the tribe’s American Rescue Act (ARA) for tribal member relief at $2,000 for each tribal member everywhere of all ages.

The distribution of checks is monumental with a tribal population of over 45,000. It requires address updates, enrollment of minor children and the completion of a form stating need rather than income-based applications. Tribal administration is currently working to update addresses and prepare direct mailing. They are currently preparing a tribal member address update link for posting on the tribal website. Address updates will be able to be completed online or by calling Tribal Enrollment at 800-251-6597.

Checks will be mailed out in batches as forms are returned so that most of the checks should arrive by mid to late August.

A $10 million appropriation made at the July 6 board meeting addresses long-standing issues of bringing tribal team members to market value. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, an updated market study to determine an appropriate pay scale for all team members was authorized by the tribal board. The effective date of implementation was backdated to July 6. Adjustments to bring team members to market value is estimated to be just after Labor Day.

“We have been working diligently on preparing a budget recommendation for the tribal board to bring all team members to market value,” said Executive Director Christine McPherson. “The governmental, housing, casino and enterprise team members are the engine that runs the tribe, so we are excited to finally reward team members by bringing them to market value. The board’s $10 million commitment is significant and appreciated.”

Tribal administration also approved a $25 million commitment towards addressing the substance abuse challenge in the larger tribal community, including the opiate epidemic that the CDC reports as having the highest rates of affliction among American Indians and Alaska Natives due to historical and intergenerational trauma. The Sault Tribe is one of the first tribes to approve a Tribal Action Plan. During research, the tribe identified a need for detox, in-patient recovery treatment and the establishment of a new long-term recovery campus.

The tribe entered a partnership with Betty Ford and Hazenden to develop a treatment based on their Anishinaabe Biimaadzwin and dedicated and blessed land 4 miles west of the I-75 interchange on M-29 near Dafter. According to chairperson Payment, the pandemic has made challenges of substance abuse even more acute.

“Each of us has been impacted by both the pandemic and the opiate and substance abuse health crisis,” said Chairperson Payment. “Our care and concern for our own people is demonstrated and I am personally grateful for this appropriation by the board.”

Over the course of the pandemic, the tribe’s main revenue source for operations was interrupted by up to a 70% loss. Casino operations were shuttered for two fiscal quarters and casino payroll is $80 million annually which expends the vast majority of gross revenues. One hundred percent of net revenues, $17 million annually, support tribal programs, services and operations. After various revenues replacement loans were applied in 2020, $38 million and another $20 million estimated through 2021 are left to recover. The board earmarked $50 million for revenue replacement, the funds will in turn, stabilize payroll and tribal programs, services and operations.

$35 million remains to be allocated with an additional $50 million for the second distribution of the American Rescue Act funds. The tribe is projected to receive the second distribution by July 15. The tribal board is meeting weekly to hear tribal priorities, review the tribe’s strategic plan and try to merge the needs and wants for the remaining $80 to $90 million. Additionally, the board has identified the need to hold large in-person and virtual tribal member input sessions. The chairperson and the tribal board office are working on scheduling sessions beginning mid-July.

For questions, please contact Chairperson Payment at 906‑635‑6050. For regular updates, please visit the tribe’s website at www.saulttribe.com

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