Recent First Nations Development Institute Report, “Twice Invisible: Understanding Rural Native America,” Raises Concerns from an Urban Indian Perspective

Recently the First Nations Development Institute (FNDI) released a report online entitled, “Twice Invisible: Understanding Rural Native America.” That report challenged some of the statistics that are commonly used to describe American Indians and Alaska Natives living off reservation in urban areas. In response to this report and concerns about some of the issues raised, we at the Urban Indian Health Institute, have written the attached letter to Urban Indian leaders, colleagues, and other partners who serve AI/AN people. The following summary highlights key concerns about the FNDI Twice Invisible report, which are described in more detail in our letter.

  • Use of single race analysis – According to the U.S. Census, 5.2 million people identified as AI/AN alone or in combination; this includes the Hispanic population. However, FNDI defines AI/AN as AI/AN only, which does not include AI/AN who are Hispanic and AI/AN who are multi-racial. FNDI’s analysis of the AI/AN population includes 2.2 million only and omits approximately 3 million additional AI/AN people.
  • Methodological concerns – FNDI used the Housing Assistance Council method to determine rurality, which includes using 2010 U.S. Census and the Rural-Urban Commuting Area Code (RUCA) for each census tract within a county. By using this method, census tracts within a metropolitan area may be identified as rural, which is problematic. In addition, FNDI suggested using Indian reservations and Alaska Native villages, counties that include reservations within their boundaries, and adjacent counties to reservations as rural. When using this method to determine rurality, counties that have large metropolitan and urban areas within their county border limits, would be improperly counted as rural.
  • Cultural identity – Urban Indians experience a combination of factors that distinguish them from tribally-based AI/ANs and other urban-dwelling minority groups. This geographic and social separation contributes to socio-economic conditions that impact urban Indian families and must be acknowledged when discussing cultural identity.
  • Diversion of private and federal funds – Federal funding not being diverted to Urban Indian programs, for some programs like the Indian Health Service (IHS) the funding continues to remain stagnant over last 30 years. Urban Indian Health Programs receive less than 1% of the overall IHS program budget. UIHI is not well versed on private funding and cannot comment.

For questions or comments, please contact Abigail Echo-Hawk, MA (Pawnee), the Director of the Urban Indian Health Institute, a Division of the Seattle Indian Health Board at (206) 812-3036 or by email.