From Reservations to Urban Centers, Indians Struggle to Escape Poverty, Fight to Create Positive Change

April 17, 2013

Over the past several decades, Native Americans on rural reservations have flocked to big cities. Now roughly seven of 10 American Indians and Alaska Natives reside in a metropolitan area, according to Census Bureau data released this year, compared with 45 percent in 1970 and 8 percent in 1940.

In the article Quietly, Indians Reshape Cities and Reservations, The New York Times draws attention to the old and new challenges created by this geographic shift.

While job opportunities lured many to urban centers, the unemployment rate for the Native American population in major cities is hardly better than the rate on some impoverished reservations, the Times reveals. And the problem is exacerbated because federal money has not followed their move. The Indian Health Service puts only about 1 percent of spending toward urban programs.

Poverty rates approach 30 percent in Denver, Phoenix and Tucson, for example; and 25 percent live in poverty in Chicago, Oklahoma City, Houston and New York—the cities with the highest concentrations of Indians. At the extreme end, more than 45 percent live in poverty in Minneapolis, and Rapid City, South Dakota's poverty level among Natives exceeds 50 percent.

Despite this bleak situation, urban Indian nonprofits are continuously working to better the lives of Natives in metropolitan areas. The Times spotlights two Minneapolis-baesd organizations fighting to affect change: the Native American Community Development Institute, a social services agency offering legal and job training programs specifically for Natives, and the ittle Earth of United Tribes, a housing complex with Native preference that offers a wide array of social services like community safety, school success, a community farm, baby space, empowerment counselors, bike rentals and more. The typical resident is a single mother (61 percent of residents).

According to Bill Ziegler, the housing project’s president and chief executive officer, progress is not made overnight but in daily efforts. "It’s like the Lakota hunters bringing down a buffalo. It wasn’t one shot. It was a series of errors that led to success," he said.





Debra Krol's picture
Debra Krol
Submitted by Debra Krol on

It's actually more like 6 out of 10. You can't count Indians living in Tribal Designated Statistical Areas [which is most of Oklahoma] or pretty much anybody in Alaska except Anchorage as living in cities. When you deduct the one reservation in Alaska and the one reservation in Oklahoma, and not account for the TSDAs in those states, you get skewed numbers. Sigh.


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