How to Get Native American Benefits in California

  Reviewed by: Michelle Seidel, B.Sc., LL.B., MBA
  Written by: Melinda Hill Sineriz      Updated October 18, 2018
Confident, thoughtful Native American woman

California has the largest population of Native Americans in the country with over 100 federally recognized tribes. Each tribe is independent and offers benefits to tribal members. Benefits may include health insurance and emergency assistance. In order to apply for Native American benefits, you must be a member of one of the federally recognized tribes.

Applying for Membership in a Tribe

Each California tribe establishes its own criteria for membership. Most tribes require proof of Native American ancestry. You may need to prove you are a direct descendant of someone on the tribe’s base roll. The base roll is the tribe’s original list of members, as designated in the tribe’s constitution or other official documentation. Alternatively, you may be able to prove you are related to someone descended from a tribe member on the base roll. There may be additional requirements such as tribal residency as well.

In order to apply for membership, you’ll need to conduct research on your ancestry. You may want to start with talking with relatives and reviewing any documentation your family has. You may want to review local courthouse records or do internet research on your genealogy. Once you have proof of ancestry, contact the tribe to determine next steps in applying for membership. You can typically only enroll in one tribe at a time.

Apply to Your Tribe for Benefits

Once your tribe has approved your membership, you can apply for benefits. Most tribes have a benefits office or social services office that will assist you. You may be entitled to tribal revenue, which is paid out on a monthly, quarterly, annual or occasional basis as determined by the tribe.

If you are experiencing financial hardship, you can apply for assistance from your tribe. Many California tribes administer Temporary Assistance to Needy Families benefits. To apply for TANF benefits, you can either contact your tribe’s TANF office or go to your county’s social services agency. Your tribe may also offer specialized assistance. They may offer burial assistance, for example, or provide assistance in emergencies.

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Apply to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for Benefits

If you don’t qualify for assistance from your tribe, you may be eligible for benefits from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The BIA offers three types of assistance: general assistance, burial assistance and emergency assistance.

General Assistance

General assistance is a monthly benefit program designed for federally recognized tribal members with limited incomes. You must qualify for the benefit and the BIA bases the payment on your household size and income. You must submit documentation of your tribal membership along with documentation that you have been denied assistance from your tribe and all other resources.

Burial Assistance

The BIA offers a one-time payment to assist with funeral and burial costs. Payments are up to $2,500 and are made directly to the mortuary. To qualify, you need to submit documentation of the deceased’s membership in a federally recognized tribe, proof that you have been denied burial assistance from your tribe, a death certificate and an invoice from the mortuary.

Emergency Assistance

Emergency assistance is a one-time payment of up to $1,000 to those who have lost their home due to a natural disaster. To qualify, you need to provide proof of the emergency, proof that the tribe has denied you emergency assistance, proof of tribal membership and proof the emergency wasn’t covered by insurance.

About the Author

Melinda Hill Sineriz is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience. She specializes in business, personal finance, and career content. She has worked in sales and has managed her own business for more than a decade. She has also written content for businesses in various industries, including restaurants, law firms, dental offices, and e-commerce companies. Learn more about her and her work at thatmelinda.com.

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