Urban Native Americans Feel They Have a Foot in Two Worlds

Dawn Turner Trice, Chicago Tribune, March 28, 2011

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[Susan] Power [a Dakota Sioux] left the reservation in 1942 and moved to Chicago to care for a relative. {snip} She said it wasn’t until 1961 when she attended a conference organized by noted University of Chicago anthropologist Sol Tax that she got a chance to address something many urban Indians were struggling with: the feeling of having a foot in two worlds and not belonging entirely to either.

On Saturday, Power will join other Native Americans from around the country at the University of Chicago to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the conference many considered to be a groundbreaking event.

“It was the first time that Indians from the reservation and from the city came together,” Power said. “The conference helped remind people that whatever differences that were cropping up, those of us in urban areas still belonged to the reservation as if we were living there on a daily basis.”

About 700 Native Americans attended that event and later presented the concerns of more than 80 tribal groups to the federal government. The conference, called the Declaration of Indian Purpose, reaffirmed the need for tribes to come together to protect their treaty rights and sovereignty.

The goal of Saturday’s conference, which Power helped conceive, is to create a new national agenda for Native Americans who live in cities and are dealing with poor access to quality health care, high dropout rates and high unemployment, among other things.

Organizers of this year’s conference are concerned that although urban Indians on average outnumber those on reservations 10-to-1, native people in urban areas are often invisible when it comes to getting federal funding geared toward Indians.

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She said the idea that Indians on reservations benefit greatly from the largess of casinos is a myth.

“Tribes don’t have sufficient funding to run their schools, hospitals and roads,” she said. “But people in cities want the ability to compete for funding designated for Indian people. The goal has to be to help everyone prosper and pull forward.”

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