Petersburg Indian Association held a work session on Wednesday, February 15th, to discuss plans for the Tribe’s COVID-19 relief funds. 

The American Rescue Plan Act, or “ARPA,” was signed into law in 2021 to provide financial relief in the wake of the pandemic. According to Chad Wright, PIA’s tribal administrator, the Tribe was awarded 4.5 million dollars in ARPA funds. To date, they have almost four million left — but they have to decide how to spend it all before December of next year. In PIA’s work session, the tribal council heard proposals from community members on how the funds should be used. 

Janine Gibbons suggested spending the money on cultural projects. Her proposal includes building a longhouse and a carving shed on Sandy Beach, as well as about a dozen smaller projects around the island. 

Resident Nathan Lopez presented ideas on culture and language revitalization as well. But he also proposed spending the ARPA money on professional development projects, such as launching a class for new business owners.

Tribal Administrator Chad Wright spoke last. His ideas steered towards building economic sovereignty for the Tribe. He asked the council to use the funds to purchase parcels of land, to be placed in a federal trust. He suggested that PIA could build housing or small businesses on these parcels.

During discussions, the council talked about prioritizing projects that would build revenue for the Tribe. Council President Cris Morrison cited PIA’s last survey of tribal citizens who were asked about their funding priorities, which ranked housing issues in the highest level of importance.

However, several attendees pointed out that the survey was completed in 2016, and may no longer be relevant. There was also pushback from PIA members who thought the money would be better spent on cultural projects, which, they said, could strengthen the community and drive tourism to Petersburg. 

The Council hopes to reach a final decision at the next PIA meeting, which is scheduled for February 21st.