Sisseton Wahpeton to Administer Welfare

Nov 15th, 1997 | By | Category: 9-3: Responsible Welfare Reform, Tribal College News

The Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe has enlisted the help of its tribal college in its response to the new federal welfare reform mandates. The tribe is one of a very few tribes in the country that has chosen to administer the program on its reservation in northern South Dakota on its own terms rather than allowing the state of South Dakota to administer the program to tribal members. Under the law, Indian tribes with an approved tribal family assistance plan may directly receive federal block grant funds. (See other articles in this issue for details.)

Sisseton Wahpeton Community College will provide educational and job readiness training to its clientele. The training will include developing critical thinking and decision making skills, increasing self-esteem, and adjusting to the changing demands of a working world, according to Academic Dean Elden Lawrence. The college will also provide training in nutrition, health, child care, and other life skills. Clients will be taught about their cultural inheritance and their traditional roles and responsibilities.

Lawrence acknowledges that the tribe faces a tremendous challenge. “We’re second and third generation welfare people. It will be hard to change habits,” he says. Many of the clients have not finished high school and thus will not be ready for college training. While the unemployment rate now on the reservation is 37 percent, he believes it will leap back to over 80 percent if the tribal casino is forced to close. Already the reservation suffers from one of the highest homelessness rates in the state. With more and more non-Indian people getting off welfare in South Dakota cities, the first jobs will go to the non-Indians, he believes.

Nevertheless, Lawrence believes the tribe made the right decision. “The tribe can’t do any worse than what the state will do. The last thing we want is to let our people fall into the hands of a state that is known to discriminate against Indians,” he says. He believes it is also important for the tribal college to participate. Referring to Abraham Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs, he says, “Educating a people out of poverty is difficult because their physiological needs must be met first. They must have food, clothing, and a roof over their heads before they can consider education.”

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