The Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and several other tribes, recently received money from a tribal trust accounting and management lawsuit. This was a $1 billion dollar settlement which was paid out to several tribes. Rosebud’s share was just over $15 million dollars. The money was placed into a private bank account.
This settlement is one of several which the federal government is now distributing to Indian tribes in this country. Another settlement involves money which was distributed as compensation for thousands of acres of tribal land which was flooded by the damming of the Missouri River. I understand this settlement money was paid to some of the tribes currently living along the Missouri River.
Anyway, there has been much speculation on how Rosebud’s portion of the settlement money would be spent. Recently, the tribal council did approve a resolution which allocated funds of $50,000 to $100,000 to each of the 20 communities of the Rosebud Reservation. Each community is to come up with a budget for this money. All of this funding is to be disbursed through the voucher system set up by the tribal finance department.
In addition, several tribal programs and organizations have submitted resolutions or requests for funding from this settlement money. Of course, the tribal council will have to review all of these requests before any of them are approved.
However, this process has now come to an abrupt halt. Apparently, a petition to call for a secretarial election is now being circulated on the Rosebud. I also understand that this petition for a referendum vote involves tribal members who want at least $11 million dollars of this settlement money to be distributed as a one-time per capita payment to all living members of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.
Many of us received a $1,000 payment from the Cobell settlement. I know many of you spent your money wisely. I also know that many of you financed a big party with that money. In any case, I hope your children had a good Christmas.
The first Cobell payment, along with the second payment which is supposed to be distributed soon, is basically tax free. The Cobell money will also not affect your eligibility for any public assistance benefits you currently receive. That is, if you currently receive Social Security, Commodity Food Distribution Program, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), General Assistance (GA), etc. you will not have to report the Cobell payments as income. Your benefits will not be affected.
However, if this secretarial election happens and if the people vote to receive a one-time per capita payment funded by some of the money received by the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, that payment will be taxable. This means you will be required to report this as income to SSI, TANF, SNAP, GA, etc. Receiving a one-time payment from the tribe as a per capita payment will affect your eligibility for public assistance. Some of you might lose a portion or all of your benefits.
The Rosebud Sioux Tribal Enrollment Department lists 31,585 people as living members. When you divide $11 million dollars by 31,585 it comes out to be about $348.26 per living tribal member. Is it really worth risk the loss or reduction of your Social Security or other benefits to receive a one-time check for $348.26?
What about the minors who would be eligible for these payments? Who will be responsible to ensure that our children benefit from their share of this proposed per capita payment?
For instance, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe recently issued gift cards in the amount of $150 which was to be used to purchase new clothing for school aged children enrolled with the tribe. This project costs the tribe well over a half a million dollars each year. Are tribal officials aware that some of our adult tribal members sold their child’s $150 gift card for $75 cash? So those children did not receive the clothing which was supposed to be purchased with the $150 gift card. Those children lost out, they did not receive any new clothes.
So, back to my question about who will ensure our children benefit from their $348.26 share of this proposed per capita payment. I believe if a per capita payment is approved through a referendum vote, the tribe should either (1) let the money sit in an investment account until our minor tribal members are at least 18 years old, or (2) require guardianship documents to be submitted before any pay-out is made to tribal members who have not yet reached the age of 18 years old.
Personally, I believe our children deserve to spend their own money in the way they see fit. So if it were up to me, I would advocate for the money which would be allocated for tribal members who are currently underage to be invested in a high interest account and that they be issued a check, which would include interest, upon their eighteenth birthday. That is only fair, right? It is not fair to hand money over to parents who will not spend on it the children. If this happens, some children will once again lose out.
Personally, I am not in favor of any per capita payments. I would rather see the money go to tribal programs which are in place to help those of us who live here on the Rez. There are many poverty-stricken elders, young families and children who depend on the tribe for a variety of services.
If I were to compile a figure of all the tribal money which is paid out to numerous tribal members and organizations for assistance with a variety of needs, the amount would be astronomical. These are our people who have no income and no one to turn to for help except the tribe. I would use money I received in a per capita check to help someone less fortunate. Would you?