What benefits do Native Americans receive for being Native …

  • See, this is precisely why I get on Quora to discuss the Native issues. There tends to be so many misconceptions or half-truths when it comes to Native Americans.

    I don’t think this is necessarily willful misrepresentation, but there is a heavy reliance on stereotypes. And the larger context is harder to arrive at when you are just doing a cursory Google search and getting snippets of information. In that case, you might come up with stories or statistics that show Native as living in dysfunctional poverty or rolling in money. And the latter stereotype either assumes it is some “special rights”( to run casinos with no oversight or regulation) or it is ”government money” and benefits given to Native Americans…just for being Native.

    Even the question itself has this built-in, or inherent, flaw – the assumption that there are financial benefits associated with being Native American.

    There are very few differences in “benefits” that a tribal member might receive as compared to a non-Native American US citizen. This is to say that all social welfare programs are pretty much the same. There are poverty or income thresholds and financial need requirements. The larger programs are run through FEDERAL grants, whether on the state or tribal level. This often includes a grantee match requirement. In other words, the feds might pay 80%…and the grantee has to pay 20% of the total operations cost. And in other cases, states and tribes might augment their social welfare programs with either state or tribal hard dollars (non-federal). If this grant money was not diverted to tribes to operate various programs, then the state would be required to serve these tribal members, who are still considered state residents. So, there is no funding difference or service population on the macro level.

    The other area that is often stereotyped is financial aid for college. There is a singular federal funding stream for Native Americans in this regard – the BIA Higher Education Grant – and it still has a financial needs threshold like any other assistance program. And it is really no different than the Pell grant that ALL American citizens might receive (if they qualify). Yet, nobody says that the US gives “free college” to White people, or all American citizens. But, they might readily assume that is the case with Natives. And of course, when tribes pay for scholarships for their own citizens, it gets stereotyped that there is “free money” going around, yet again. The reality is it is just tribes choosing to invest in its people. That is still our way. When the financial situation wasn’t as good, tribal nations couldn’t do this. Now that tribal business ventures are generating profit, this is important to us…and so we establish scholarship programs. This is actually a traditional cultural value…brought into the 21st century.

    The other area that is misunderstood has to do with health care. The Indian Health Service does provide health care services on Native lands, but it is now often compacted with tribes (“638” compacts)… where tribes operate various grants and programs directly. Tribes also pony up substantial sums to cover cost of health care for tribal members, or build facilities. IHS funding is not enough to cover the health care costs in Indian Country. In fact, most tribal hospitals operate like any other medical facility, serving non-Natives as well. They will bill standard medical insurance, and tribal members that have their own insurance are not usually seen at IHS facilities.

    However, in this regard, IHS is a legacy of the federal trust responsibility that was assumed when tribes ceded territory in exchange for various terms in treaties. Meanwhile, there are federal dollars spent on community health grants for states, and few people know about this or think of it as states or White people (or American citizens) getting “benefits.”

    Alright, now for biggest misconception about Natives – money from “the government” or casinos.

    Notice in another answer these elements were brought up specifically:

    “Aside from autonomy to live and govern their own nation inside of the United States and whatever additional benefits they may receive from state and local governments, Ied an astonishing documentary that outlines the lives of Native American teenagers in Wisconsin that upon graduation receive $200,000.00 upon high school graduation.

    That much? Yes, it’s entirely true. From who?”



    Let me go point by point here, because I think this is a good illustration of the general perception that is quite prevalent (and again, I’m not picking here…I don’t think that there was any negative intent). It is just based on a quick search and perhaps confirmation bias, if anything.

    First, there are no benefits ever given to tribal members on the state or local level that would not be available to state residents in general. Any of these services would be provided to a tribal member that went into a state office directly and was receiving this assistance as a state resident. In fact, I know of no case or scenario where there would be a regular transfer of money from local jurisdictions to tribal governments. That would be so extremely rare, as to be aberrational. And states also do not support tribal programs in the manner being presented here.

    Additionally, this might be assuming that money is given to Natives (e.g. when turning 18) in some kind of direct fashion, and that is comes from “the government” somehow. This is not true at all.

    Tribes operate their own business ventures, which can include casinos. States can operate their own gaming operations at their discretion, just like tribes. This is because there is no prohibition at the federal level. Each tribe and state decides their own position. It is entirely at their discretion. So, there is no “special right” involved. Currently there are 566 federally recognized tribal nations. Out of these, about 40% operate some form of gaming operations. This could be from the smallest bingo hall, up to Las Vegas-style casinos. Tribal gaming falls under federal regulation protocols, and part of the requirement to operate a casino is to negotiate with the state and come up with a compact agreement.

    What is that for, you might ask?

    Well, it normally sets the percentage or amount the tribe has to give directly to the state, based on net casino profits. This is in lieu of federal taxes and costs of mitigation or “impact” to the state (for loss of tax revenue or supposed stress on state infrastructure). Yet, do you think the state ever has to pay tribes in reverse order? No. Of course not.

    So, take the case of Ho-Chunk, who were highlighted here (e.g. see the video link). This tribe has about 6500 members. Prior to the mid-90s…they were mostly living in poverty. As the casino built up, they shared a larger percentage of the profits within the tribal populations. These are called “per capita” payments. It is really nothing more than a dividend check….and it will fluctuate with the revenue of the tribe’s business ventures. As the tribe’s casino became more profitable, the sums of money being disbursed continued to rise. Currently, the annual per capita amounts stand at about $12,000. Children will receive payments to a trust fund, which accrues until they are 18. At that point, they can get this lump sum. However, nobody seems to understand that per caps are no different than the Alaska Permanent Fund that AK residents receive each year. It isn’t “free money.” It is from investment and a profit sharing system.

    Out of about 200+ tribes engaging in gaming, only about two dozen have per capita payments, and only a small number are extremely large. Ho-Chunk of WI just happens to be one of this small minority or wealthy tribes. They do not represent ALL Native Americans.

    To put this all into perspective, consider these facts:

    The Ho-Chunk tribe in WI has to give the state about $30 million dollars annually. Sometimes it is more; sometimes it is less. This is based on 6.5% of total casino revenues that must be given to the state as required by the state-tribal compact agreement. At the same time, about 30% of the casinos employees are non-Natives. So, it stimulates the state and local economy directly. Yet, nobody think of Native GIVING money to American citizens. Why is that? Or, consider that the tribe has given just under $100 million dollars to local organizations in the past 15+ years. This averages $6+ million, annually.

    The most interesting thing I’ve noticed over the years, and observing differences between groups and populations…is that White people tend to have more inter-generational or accumulated wealth in families that is then passed along in various ways. Either this is inheritance or gifts/assistance, or real property that gets passed along. This is very rare in Native families, for the most part. So, when White people talk about “benefits” of being Native, or point to a few tribes giving out per capita…it really makes me shake my head sometimes. I’ve seen so many White Americans get “benefits” just for being from a financially privilege people. And while we focus on about 20 tribes with per caps and a handful with very high payouts, we don’t talk about White American status as being related to “benefits”…yet, this is indeed the population with the highest level of trust funds, or prevalence of inheritances or family cash assistance….based on per capita, of course.

    Consider the nature of this story about Ho-Chunk “18 money”…and how they focused on the jealousy of non-Natives in the community, or the fast cash that was blown by these immature kids that just couldn’t handle it (and did they focus on those that were successful with their money? No, of course not that doesn’t make for good journalism in the modern era). Ironically, these kids represent the babies that were born in the first few years that per capitas were even disbursed or invested in trust funds. Out of a total tribal population of about 6500+, how many turn 18 in any given year? Low single digit percentage, right? This maybe represents 100+ young adults per year…from a community that overcame poverty, to now…in the very first few years of some economic wealth. We have have to make sure we see how those Natives blow their money, right?

    Why is there no profile on White trust fund kids…and an similar assumption that this is what “benefits” White Americans have?


    Yet…look at modern American culture represented in this video, White people in the neighboring community are “scathing” when Indians get some money, as if it is there business anyway.

    Their ancestors were also scathing that Indians held land and weren’t “doing anything with it” …just hunting and gathering. And even doing that traditional activity was irritating to them.

    Wisconsin Walleye War

    Some things have very deep cultural legacies indeed.

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