Vince Two Eagles: Some background on tribal general assistance programs

Vince Two Eagles

The Rez of the Story
What's Up With G.A.?
By Vince Two Eagles
Lakota Country Times Columnist

Hau Mitakuepi (Greetings My Relatives),

Here we are in the middle of winter of another new year, namely, 2K16. What a year 2015 was and what a year 2016 promises to be. To paraphrase a famous passage from a great American novel; We live in the best of times, we live in the worst of times.

Recently I have been asked to talk about G.A. or General Assistance since a lot of non-Indians are curious about it as are Indian people as to it’s origins, eligibility, etc. Here taken from American Indians, American Justice by Vine Deloria, Jr. and Clifford M. Lytle is the best explanation I could bring to you. If you need further information the Bureau of Indian Affairs can be contacted through their web site, www.indianaffairs.gov.

Deloria and Lytle write:
‘When Chief Justice John Marshall in the Cherokee Nation Cases referred to Indian nations as “domestic dependent nations,” he was providing a preview of at least one Indian problem for years to come. Stripped of their land, their buffalo and salmon, and often their ability to govern themselves, Indian tribes became dependent upon the federal government in many ways. Food and clothing alone constituted the most fundamental of many of their needs. As described by one commentator: “Old, crippled, almost helpless Indians are required to come to the agency in all sorts of weather to get their supplies.” On several reservations the survey staff saw poorly clad, old people, with feet soaked by long walks through snow and slush, huddled in the agency office waiting for the arrival of the superintendent or other officer who could give them an order for rations to keep them from actual starvation.'

'The federal government was thus forced to embark on a program of providing some form of welfare programs for its Indian "wards." Unfortunately, the efforts of federal assistance agencies were not always as altruistic as they might have been. Food, clothing, and other means of subsistence were often used as political tools by which to promote a particular governmental policy. While these efforts to control individuals may not have been as extreme as those of Lord Jeffrey Amherst, the British commander who suggested sending the Indians blankets infested with small pox (from which comes the old Amherst College song proclaiming the fact that that he "placed a pox, in their sox, in the days of yore"), federal control over these services was all too often political.

Indians living on reservations are eligible for a wide variety of federal social service programs designed specifically for Indians. Most of the specially designed Indian social services fall within the category of "general assistance" programs. This usually means that one qualifies for benefits only if there is no other public assistance available.

Indian access to state social service programs, like the struggle for educational opportunities has met political resistance in most states. The old argument that Indians who do not pay taxes should not be eligible for services has been at the forefront of this state resistance. In 1954, a California court addressed itself to this overall question in Acosta v. San Diego County, 126 Cal. App. 2d 455, 272 P.2d 92 (1954). A group of needy Indians living on the Pala Indian Reservation applied for emergency relief from San Diego County. The state denied them benefits on the grounds that Indians did not share in the tax burden and thus should not expect to partake in the benefits of state services. The California court disagreed with this contention and held that reservation Indians were entitled to the emergency relief benefits as were the non-Indians of the state.’

Visit the Lakota Country Times and subscribe today

Today GA is primarily referred to as subsistence funds given out bi-monthly. If one is eligible to receive these funds some BIA Agencies require participants to actively seek employment. This means that the one getting GA has to solicit signatures from local employment sites (i.e. private business, tribal programs, state programs, etc.).

Most Indian people would rather be working than to be on GA. It is demeaning to some while others see GA as the annuities promised by Treaty. There is no question that GA fills in a large gap in subsistence help for families and their children however, there is no substitute for steady, gainful employment to find dignity and self-worth in one’s life.

And now you know the rez of the story.

Doksha(later). . .

Find the award-winning Lakota Country Times on the Internet, Facebook and Twitter and download the new Lakota Country Times app today.

Join the Conversation