May 15--Changes to the Affordable Care Act could make it more difficult for some Native Americans to continue receiving federal health care benefits when Obamacare kicks in Jan. 1.

The changes in the law could impact up to an estimated half-million Native Americans nationwide but probably will not impact many in Pennsylvania or Berks County.

That's because there are no government-recognized Native American tribes or reservations in Pennsylvania.

Nevertheless, more than 80,000 state residents self-identify themselves as being at least part Native American, as do 2,962 Berks residents.

Though many of those state and county residents may be active in Native American cultural groups, very few are bona fide, card-carrying U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs members of the Indian nation, said Mark "One Hawk" Goff, a representative of the Ontelaunee Powwow.

The group, which has about 200 members in Berks, Lehigh, Lancaster and other surrounding counties, will celebrate its Sixth Annual Ontelaunee Park Intertribal Powwow at its headquarters in New Tripoli, Lehigh County, this weekend. Most members, like Goff, are part Native American but haven't researched their lineage so they could prove it to the federal government.

Goff said anyone can claim to be part Native American when they fill out a U.S. Census form. Proving it is another matter.

"I'm one-eighth Algonquian and I thought about trying to prove it when I was going to college because of the financial aid that might be available, but it was too much of a hassle," Goff said.

Another hurdle was the arrival of casinos on reservations.

"People started coming out of the woodwork claiming to be Native Americans so they could reap some of the profits and it got to the point where the tribes had to close their books," he said.

Native Americans living on reservations and already registered with the government should have nothing to fear from the changes in the law, he said.

Contact Dan Kelly: 610-371-5040 or dkelly@readingeagle.com.

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