A recent roundtable hosted by the Denver Indian Center focused on issues important to urban Natives. The 2010 census found that urban Natives make up about two-thirds the population, but receive less funding from the federal government. In attendance were, from left, Janeen Comenote, Quinault, executive director, National Urban Indian Family Coalition; John Jewett, Oglala Lakota/Temne, acting director, Denver Indian Family Resource Center, and Jay Grimm, Dine’, Denver Indian Center director, before a meeting on urban Indian concerns.

Urban Indians: Greater Numbers, Fewer Dollars

Carol Berry

Though urban Natives constitute about two-thirds of Indian people in the United States according to the 2010 census, they receive fewer federal dollars to meet urgent health, employment, educational and other needs than do reservation communities, local urban leaders said at a Denver Indian Center (DIC) roundtable May 16.

Not that urban dwellers necessarily resent the financial support given their reservation-dwelling cousins, it’s just that “often urban American Indians are overshadowed in policy considerations,” said Janeen Comenote, Quinault, executive director of the Seattle-based National Urban Indian Family Coalition.

A free-wheeling discussion of urban Indian needs and priorities in 12 cities is to ultimately result in a policy paper to reach legislators and others—including such organizations as the National Congress of American Indians—with the political heft to create major improvements for Native people, according to roundtable leaders Comenote and Maura Grogan, a non-Native private facilitator.

In Denver, heads of local organizations said collaboration among agencies, partnerships, community-building, and creating trust were among major strengths, while Comenote and others noted that, despite progress, some urban Indians remain among the “poorest of the poor.”

Some 60 to 80 percent who enter DIC’s Workforce Program have just left reservations, many from the Southwest, while others who need help have felonies on their records and “can’t find work,” said Eileen Masquat, program director, who cited a “vast need.”

While Indian Health Service-funded routine care is available at Denver Indian Health and Family Services (DIHFS), contracting out for specialty services is difficult, said Adrianne Maddux, DIHFS executive assistant. Major health disparities exist, said John Jewett, acting director of Denver Indian Family Resource Center, as well as information gaps in programs that are evidence-based and data-driven.

Other needs noted were for more Indian focus schools in the urban school system; fund-raising for the 92 percent of Native students who don’t attend tribal colleges which are often located on or near reservations; uniformity among county-based child welfare systems; and mental health and substance abuse programs.

Collaboration between reservation tribes and urban-based nonprofits should enjoy government support because they serve tribal members who come to the city, it was noted.

Gathering information in the urban communities is important, Comenote said of the survey supported by the Marguerite Casey Foundation, because policy-makers are “only as good as the information they receive.”

“Our policy-makers on the national level really have no idea about off-reservation needs,” she concluded.

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