Ruiz v. Morton: BIA Welfare Extended to All American Indians


The relationship between the American Indian and the “white man” represents a unique chapter in the history of the treatment of minority groups by the dominant society. The young federal government of the United States considered the various Indian tribes as hostile nations of barbarians who stood in the way of civilization and pioneer expansion. Consequently, Indian-white relations amounted to a succession of attempts by the government to handle Indian hostility by waging war, by writing treaties and, finally, by creating trust lands administered by a separate federal agency, the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Today, the continued existence of the BIA as a gaurdian for Indians supports the conclusion that the federal government still considers the Indian people a minority group to whom it owes distinct obligations and treatment.

This Comment will examine one aspect of the special relationship between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indians, that of general assistance benefits. The role of the BIA in this area has been significantly changed by the recent Ninth Circuit decision in Ruiz v. Morton, which extends BIA welfare to all Indians irrespective of place ofresidence. Before the Ruiz decision, BIA welfare benefits were restricted to Indians who lived on reservations.

Suggested Reading

Culture provides a foundation for the way we experience the world.[1] Rooted in traits such as ethnicity, race, religion, and gender identity, culture influences people’s values, behaviors, and beliefs.[2] Scholars have described culture as something akin to “the air we