Reflections from the Ah­nish­i­nah­bæójib­way (We, the People)

July 6, 1988 - Welfare Concerns

The politicians are warming up for November’s elections, and already letters to the editor are starting to wave the WELFARE! flag.  Behind the rhetoric of “bad families,” Indian people are being blamed for something that we didn’t create, don’t want, and which is causing us a great deal of harm.

In October of 1986, just before the last round of elections, the Bemidji Pioneer ran some blame-the-Indian “Welfare” articles, including one (on the 24th) with the headline, “Red Lake Reservation welfare programs cost $640,000.”  If the reader remembered the facts and figures from other articles published around the same time ... from the Minneapolis Star and Tribune as well as the Pioneer, read the October 24 article very critically, and had a calculator, it would have been clear that the actual amount that Beltrami County taxpayers paid for Red Lake welfare services was $0.00 (zero dollars and zero cents).  According to the Pioneer’s article, “both funds combined fell $1,200 short of expenses with the county having to pay the difference.  What actually happened is that money from the State of Minnesota was transferred from one column on the books to another—Beltrami County’s out-of-picket expense was ZERO.

Welfare is a favorite election-year subject.  The 1987 budget for Beltrami County Social Service’s branch office in Red Lake was $635,000.  Red Lake funding was $487,000.  Minnesota State Equalization Aid was $148,000.  Cost to Beltrami County was $0.00 (zero).  However, benefit to Beltrami County is quite considerable.

The 1987 “Program Costs” for Beltrami County Social Services, Red Lake Office were $509,000.  The administration costs were $132,000 (25%).  Of this, at least $123,000 were salaries—to non-Indian people who live off the Reservation and presumably pay Beltrami County property taxes, as well as spending the rest of the salaries off of the Reservation, for a cost of $0.00 (zero).  These Beltrami County residents have seven jobs, and an influx of at least $123,000 into their economy.

The 1987 “Program Costs” were $509,000.  Of this, over 47% went for Foster Care: providing “services” to 60 children at $4,000 per child (and leaving $3,219 unmentioned).  (The Foster Care portion of Minnesota’s total $1.2 billion 1987 welfare budget was so small as not to appear in a category budget.)  The actual foster-care payments, at least to Indian foster parents, are considerably less than $4,000 per child per year. “Placement” of Red Lake Indian children outside of their homes is also handled by several other agencies (and is funded by a number of sources including the Federal Government, private foundations, and the churches); the total number of Indian children removed from their families is not available, and the total number of Indian children taken away from the Indian community and “placed” in White homes or institutions is also not available.  Most of the money spent on “foster care” goes outside the Reservation economy: either directly through payments to White agencies and White foster parents, or directly as Indian foster parents buy groceries, clothing, and other necessities in Bemijdi.  The guidelines for Foster Care in Red Lake conform to White Minnesota standards, and thus forcibly remove Indian children from the Red Lake Indian community.  [This is in violation of Article II, section e of the International Convention on Genocide.]

The second-largest “Program cost” of the Beltrami County Social Services, Red Lake Branch, is A.F.D.C., $144,616 in 1897.  This is 2% (two percent) of Beltrami County’s total A.F.D.C. costs.  The population of Red Lake Reservation is (using the Bemidji Pioneer’s figures) around 16% of the Beltrami County population.  Beltrami County’s unemployment rate is slightly less than 10%.  Red Lake Reservation’s unemployment rate is over 90%, mostly because the White man’s economic system drains money off of the Reservation and into the White economy.  Not considering the differences in unemployment, Red Lake Indians would have to have eight times as many A.F.D.C. recipients as there are now, to even reach Beltrami County’s non-Indian A.F.D.C. rate.  The next time somebody in Bemidji wants to write an article about Indian “welfare mothers,” they should look in their own backyard first.  After all, the White man brought in their welfare system.

The balance of $121,165 of the Beltrami County Social Services, Red Lake branch budget is used for community social services, semi-independent living skills, elder alternative care, and “other.”  This money also quickly leaves the Reservation economy and is absorbed by the non-Indian economy—as was planned.  The need for all of the services provided by the Beltrami County Social Services, Red Lake Branch, was created by the White man.  Blaming Indians, in article after article, for the social conditions created by this system is nothing less than racist propaganda.

Whatever problems that there are in Red Lake Indian Nation are a direct result of the White economic system (including stealing our land, our timber, and our other resources—and destroying our permacultural system of agriculture); of the White governments’ taking control of our community away from the people that it belongs to; of Machiavellian motive, slimy tactic policies of assimilation, integration, and acculturation [destroying Indian culture]; and of the documented effects of the Welfare system (which was forced on us) of destroying community economies, personal initiative, and families.

Furthermore, through the tax structure, Red Lake Indian people are actually PAYING the entire $640,000 budget of the Beltrami County Social Services, Red Lake Branch—and a lot more.  In cigarette taxes alone, we pay over three-quarters of a million dollars a year to the State of Minnesota.  The money comes back to Beltrami County through Welfare “equalization funds,” spends less than thirty days on the Red Lake Indian Reservation, and then goes right back into the outside economy as Indian people buy food, clothing, utility services and the other bare necessities of life.  Red Lake Indians also pay gasoline taxes ($.17 Minnesota Tax per gallon); income tax, alcohol tax; 6% Minnesota Sales Tax (directly and indirectly) ... and the resources which have been stolen from us are the very foundation of Northern Minnesota’s White-controlled economy.

The Red Lake Indian people did not ask for, and do not want the welfare system which as been forced on us so that our resources could be stolen—by “blaming the victim.”  The colonial Indian Reorganization Act government which has agreed to the welfare system, commodities, and other insults to human dignity was described by a State bureaucratic wag, “A corrupt government is better than no government at all” [most likely they meant the Minnesota Legislature also].

Francis Blake, Jr.

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