Study: More data needed on urban Indian issues

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SEATTLE - More data is needed to quantify the special needs of urban Indians, and more united action between urban Natives and tribes is needed ;'to achieve a better future for all Native people,'' according to a new study.

''There is a critical lack of research on the issues facing Native families residing in urban areas,'' according to the study, ''Urban Indian America,'' by the Seattle-based National Urban Indian Family Coalition.

And despite historical ''tension'' between urban Indians and tribes back home, the report says there is a need ''to make sure that the needs of reservation-based and urban Native people are not a cause for division but instead for united action.''

The NUIFC, a coalition of about two dozen urban Indian centers, recommends engaging in dialogue with tribal governments, and to conduct a multi-year research project ''aimed at providing a snapshot of urban Indians' socio-economic status, well-being, and overall experiences as members of urban Native communities.''

According to the study, ''Tribes and urban Indian organizations both lack adequate data to understand the needs and desires of urban Indians. To build a foundation for constructive dialogue, we need to know more.''

The group said tribal leaders can benefit from this by enhancing their own political influence, revitalizing and protecting culture, and accessing the knowledge base of urban Indian professionals.

Some of the pressing questions the group wants studied include which cities and which neighborhoods urban Indians live in; who urban Indians are; how many generations of Indians are now living in cities; when and why do Indians migrate to urban areas; and how income matches up with quality of life, among others.

The study highlights two instances in which tribal-urban partnerships have been done successfully. One is the Menominee Nation of Wisconsin, which has established an urban center in Chicago to serve its members living there. The Menominee Nation has seen voting in elections and referenda increase, according to the report.

The second example is where urban Indian centers advocate for urban children under the jurisdiction of tribes through the Indian Child Welfare Act, which says tribes have jurisdiction over tribal children's welfare no matter where they reside. The Minneapolis Indian Center has been doing such advocacy since 1978, according to the report.

The report states: ''There is no one definition of an 'urban Indian.''' It says that in addition to traditional definitions of an Indian, additional criteria apply for urban Natives, including ancestry, appearance, cultural knowledge and Indian community participation. It also sets out four categories of urban Indians: long-term residents, forced residents, permanent residents, and medium- and short-term visitors.

Some pertinent data on urban Indians have been collected, the report states. For instance, 61 percent of those identified in the 2000 Census as Indian (alone or in combination) did not live on reservations.

''Compared to the general population, urban Indians have 38 percent higher rates of accidental deaths; 54 percent higher rates of diabetes; 126 percent higher rates of liver disease and cirrhosis; 178 percent higher rates of alcohol-related deaths.''

Urban Indians are three times more likely to be homeless than the general population, the report states; also, homeownership rates are 46 percent versus 62 percent, and child abuse cases are 5.7 per 1,000 versus 4.2 per 1,000.

The poverty rate for urban Indians is 20.3 percent, compared to 12.7 percent of the general population, and their unemployment rate is 1.7 times higher.