Q. I’m calling to find out about my Indian benefits.
A. Many people believe that having American Indian heritage entitles them to a monthly check or benefits from the government. The government does not mail out checks to people because they are American Indian. Some tribes make money by leasing their land or having successful businesses and are able to disperse payments to their enrolled tribal members.
Q. Do I qualify for free health care because I’m American Indian and or Alaska Native?
A. The Indian Health Service (IHS) is a health care system for federally recognized American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States. It’s important to clarify that the IHS is not a health insurance provider and that the IHS can provide healthcare to only eligible Alaska Native and American Indians at its federal hospitals and clinics.
Q. What is the difference between a federally recognized tribe and state recognized tribe?
A. A federally recognized tribe is an American Indian or Alaska Native tribal entity that is recognized as having a government-to-government relationship with the United States, with the responsibilities, powers, limitations, and obligations attached to that designation, and is eligible for funding and services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Furthermore, federally recognized tribes are recognized as possessing certain inherent rights of self-government (i.e., tribal sovereignty) and are entitled to receive certain federal benefits, services, and protections because of their special relationship with the United States. Most of today’s 573 federally recognized tribes received federal recognition status through treaties, acts of Congress, presidential executive orders or the Part 83 administrative recognition process.
State recognized tribes are Native American Indian Tribes, Nations, and Heritage Groups that have been recognized by a process established under assorted state laws for varying purposes. Many states have passed legislation to recognize some tribes and acknowledge the self-determination and continuity of historic ethnic groups. The majority of these groups are located in the Eastern US. There are no state recognized tribes in California.
Q. How do I find out if I own Indian land?
A. First, start with contacting the Office of Special Trustee (OST) Trust Beneficiary Call Center. The OST was created to improve the accountability and management of Indian funds held in trust by the federal government. Below is the contact information.
Office of Special Trustee Trust Beneficiary Call Center
Phone: (888) 678-6836 FREE
Q. Can I transfer my dependency case from state court to tribal court? If so, how?
A. Tribes for example can become involved in cases that affect children from their tribe and are entitled to all reports and notices related to the case. The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) also allows the parent(s) or the tribe to request a transfer of proceedings from state court to tribal court. The state court must transfer unless one of the following occurs:
1. The tribal court declines jurisdiction
2. Either parent or custodian objects to such transfer;
3. The state court determines that good cause exists to deny the transfer.
If the parent(s) or the tribe requests a transfer or jurisdiction, either orally or in writing, child welfare workers should recommend such a transfer, unless there is a good cause not to transfer jurisdiction (25 U.S.C. § 1911[b]. Tribes must first decide whether they will accept jurisdiction over a case and even then there is no guarantee the tribal court will return a child to his or her parents.
Q. Can CILS help me unseal my adoption records so I can discover what tribe(s) I may be from?
A. CILS does not appear in court for clients seeking to unseal their birth records. It is an administrative process. We can, however, assist in preparing your petition and other administrative forms if you are income eligible for services. If you are over income we may be able to assist for a fee. If you would like our assistance with completing the petition please contact our office and ask to speak with our Intake Advocate.
Q. I am not eligible for free services. Does that mean CILS cannot help me?
A. Not necessarily. If you do not qualify for free legal services under our income guidelines we may be able to assist you on a fee for service basis. Our hourly rates are competitive and offer the same level of service.
Q. My children were recently removed from my care by Child Protective Services. Can CILS help me?
A. Special federal and state laws may apply to dependency cases, where an Indian child is removed from his home because of alleged abuse or neglect. CILS only represents tribes in dependency cases, not individuals, but we can still provide general information about the Indian Child Welfare Act and its state law counterparts.
Q. Can CILS help me with enrolling into my tribe?
A. We do not assist people with enrollment in particular Indian tribes because of potential professional conflicts of interest but the Tribe will be able to tell you how to begin the process.
Q. A relative told me I am part Native American. Can CILS research my Indian ancestry for me or tell me if I am eligible to enroll in a tribe?
A. No. As sovereign governments each Indian tribe has the power to determine its own membership criteria. CILS does not possess a database of Native Americans or tribal members and does not trace Indian ancestry for callers. We do have helpful information packets about tracing American Indian ancestry which include helpful information about the history of federal Indian policy, links to the National Archives and other online research tools.