U.S. census count critical for funding urban Indian programs


In Minneapolis and St. Paul, under-counting American Indians on the U.S. Census has led to reduction in federal funding for urban American Indian communities since 2000. Census officials recently visited Minneapolis to encourage American Indians, “Be Counted!” on the 2010 census. 

At least one program, the Workforce Investment Program (WIA) at the American Indian Opportunities Industrialization Center (AIOIC), which provides employment training and retention services, can cite a drop in funding due to 2000 census statistics.

Congress allocates approximately 55 million dollars a year in federal funding to provide job training and assistance for American Indian job seekers. Dawn Paro (Leech Lake Ojibwe), Program Director of the WIA and Minneapolis Employment Training Program (METP) employment programs at the AIOIC  says program dollars at AIOIC decreased $299,000 incrementally over past five years. Paro attributes the loss of federal funds to the way the 2000 Census asked questions about race and ethnicity.

In 2000, American Indians could choose to answer the race question by choosing to check American Indian alone or American Indian in combination with one or more race. The formula developed by the Department of Labor to determine funding for Indian WIA program in Hennepin County examines the number of American Indians living in poverty versus the total number of American Indians living in the county to award funding. In Hennepin County, the number of American Indians rose by several thousand people according to the 2000 census.

According to Paro, while the number of American Indians said to be living in poverty in Hennepin county remained relatively the same, the number of American Indians living in Hennepin county rose. The increase, Paro says, resulted in a loss of funding as the number of people living in poverty could be shown to have decreased.

The WIA program at AIOIC is one of 189 Indian programs who utilize funds, but AIOIC program is one of a few urban based programs. Paro states, “All the years I have worked in this [Minneapolis and St. Paul] community urban Indian programs have been underfunded.”

Paro says that money originally allocated for urban populations has shifted to reservation programs with higher numbers of American Indians. The decrease in funding for Hennepin County Indian WIA program led to one lay off, resulting in an increase in the work load for four other job counselors under Paro’s direction.

Paro sees some hope for a return to much needed funding as census data accurately reflects the number of American Indians living in Hennepin County. The WIA program at AIOIC serves up to 250 people a year. Paro says the program has stretched every last dollar in order to serve every individual who arrives the WIA program, refusing to turn job seekers away.

According to the census bureau, over 400 billion dollars are allocated to national, state, reservation, and county programs each year, including funding for the Native Programs Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, and the Voting Rights Act. Due to recent changes in the U.S. economy, organizations and non-profits addressing Native issues find they are increasingly strapped for funds.

David Cournoyer, Director of Resources for Native American Philanthropy, says that while there is no hard data tracking the impact of giving from private foundations,  “Nationally, the most recent data relative to Native American issues indicates that less than one quarter of 1% of grants is directed to Native causes – based on 2005 analysis of larger grants of 10,000 and higher”.

On the impact of private funding for non-profits in the current economy, Cournoyer adds, “Our concern is that more public decision makers are looking to the philanthropic and non-profit sector to fill gaps in government funding.”  


Urban American Indians Count

Urban Indian leaders and Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT) officials gathered at the invitation of Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin on February 18 at MCT urban headquarters to hear census officials speak to item  number 9 on the 2010 census form, which asks individuals to answer a question about race and ethnicity.

During the February 18 meeting, several tribal and community leaders urged American Indians from multi-racial families to identify their household as American Indian, and to identify all children as American Indian, whether bi-racial or multi-racial – in order to prevent any instance of undercounting.

Item number 9 also provides space for  American Indians and Alaskan Natives to identify tribal affiliation by listing up to three tribal affiliations whether a person is an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe or a descendant. Present at the February meeting was Boise Fort Band of Chippewa Chairman Kevin Leecy. Leecy told the fifty-plus community members that he drove five hours to Minneapolis to urge people to fill out the census forms. Lacey stressed the importance of the census count to funding for reservation based programs.

Syndee Chattin-Reynolds, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, has worked with reservation and urban communities for the U.S. Census for several decades. Chattin-Reynolds related to community members that the U.S. census is aware of the numbers of American Indians undercounted by the census. She says it’s a trend that they have been working to change.

Chattin-Reynolds sites that by 2000 efforts by her office succeeded in bringing down the estimated undercount of American Indians by 8%. Still, American Indians remain undercounted by an estimated 4%.

When asked if she thought American Indians might be less likely to identify race or ethnicity due to what some journalists over the past year have described as a “post-race” mood in America, Chattin-Reynolds observed, “We find that people want to identify themselves.”

According to Dennis Johnson of the Regional Census Bureau for the Midwest, the question being used for the 2010 census is essentially the same as the question on the 2000 census and will allow for multiple race entries.

2010 Census and Sensitivity

Paro says she was discouraged by the 2000 census, wondering why American Indians would be asked to count themselves in combination with another race. She states that no other racial group in American is asked to identify as “other”.

She says her support of the 2010 census extends to individuals applying for census jobs, as well as educating WIA clients about how the census will count American Indians, and hopes funding levels for her program and others will be restored.

At the census meeting, social services workers emphasized the need to assure clients who receive county benefits or housing subsidies that their information will not be given out to any other government office. Social service providers expressed some concern that families who receive housing subsidies many not want to count everyone living in their home or apartment for fear they could lose their housing.

Hennepin county official present at the meeting said their case managers will not assist individuals with filling out census forms, in order to remove them from hearing any information which could jeopardize a family’s housing.

Commissioner McLaughlin encouraged all social service providers to inform their clients that their information will be kept strictly confidential.

The AIOIC will serve as Question Assistance Center three hours everyday during each week between mid-March and May to answer questions about the Census.

In addition, the census is currently recruiting new hires to help get an accurate count of American Indians. New hires will take to the streets and go door to door March through May to collect forms that have not been mailed back.

As of May 1, the census will become the largest employer in the world, employing roughly 1.2 million people. The AIOIC will continue to act as the census testing site until hiring for the census is complete.