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President Donald Trump held a roundtable with Native American leaders during a visit to Arizona on May 5, 2020. Arizona Republic

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New Mexico tribes soon will receive "the single largest investment in Indian country in our history" to fight COVID-19, President Donald Trump announced during his visit to Arizona on Tuesday.

A group of tribes across the country, including several in Arizona, say they have yet to receive $8 billion from the federal CARES Act money that is urgently needed to avoid economic devastation.

The Navajo Nation, which includes land in northern Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, will soon receive more than $600 million and the Gila River Indian Community will receive $40 million in initial funds to protect citizens from "the scourge, this plague, from what we're all fighting in this country," Trump said.

"The amount of money that's being sent to Indian country, as we call it, is the largest amount in the history of the U.S. and you deserve it. You went through a lot," Trump said.

The Navajo Nation, the Gila River Indian Community and the Ak-Chin Indian Community are among tribes that are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Treasury to immediately release $8 billion in CARES Act funding to tribes. The money has yet to be distributed.

The lawsuit specified the money be immediately disbursed to federally-recognized tribes and not to for-profit Alaska Native corporations that the plaintiffs said generate billions of dollars in revenue.

Trump made the comments about the release of money during a roundtable discussion about American Indian issues.Those in attendance included three Native American leaders: Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer; his wife, Second Lady Dottie Lizer; and Stephen Roe Lewis, governor of the Gila River Indian Community.

It was unclear why more of Arizona's federally-recognized tribes were not included in the roundtable.

"Weeks ago, I signed the CARES Act, which includes $8 billion to help tribal governments, and I want to thank Sen. (Martha) McSally for fighting hard to get those funds and to get them here and get them to a lot of different people over the country, including the folks in this room," Trump said.

Lewis said towards the end of the roundtable that the $8 billion will be “woefully inadequate to meet our current needs” in native communities. He said he looks forward to the next relief bill for tribes that need it the most.

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Navajo Nation has had 73 COVID-19 deaths

Trump added during his remarks about the American Indian funding that COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, "should have been contained from where it came."

As of Monday, the Navajo Nation had 2,474 identified COVID-19 cases and 73 deaths. The tribe's vast reservation includes land in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.

Lizer said the peak for cases on the Navajo Reservation is expected in mid-May. 

Lewis and Lizer provided Trump with a summary of their tribes' COVID-19 cases, and Lizer also talked about the Navajo Nation's 57-hour weekend curfews. He said a lockdown in Gallup, New Mexico, has helped restrict movement but that some tribal residents still were traveling to other nearby cities such as Flagstaff and Farmington, New Mexico.  

The Gila River Indian Community has tested more than 1,100 people and has had one fatality and 44 positive tests, Lewis told Trump.

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The president, in his conversation with Lewis, mispronounced the tribe's name.

Lizer's goal in attending the event was to advocate for more resources and funding for water infrastructure to get clean water for more homes on the Navajo Nation, according to a statement from the tribe.

"During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve heard concerns from families that don’t have running water to wash their hands and clean their homes, etc.," the statement said.

"One bill in Congress now is the Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement Act, which President Nez and Vice President Lizer have advocated for to bring water resources to our communities. Also to get CARES Act funding to federally-recognized Tribes ASAP."

Arizona Republic reporter Alison Steinbach contributed to this article

Reach health care reporter Stephanie Innes at Stephanie.Innes@gannett.com or at 602-444-8369. Follow her on Twitter @stephanieinnes.

Reach the reporter at chelsea.curtis@arizonarepublic.com or follow her on Twitter @curtis_chels.

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