MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.—Native American poverty doesn’t fit the image many may have of life on secluded, depleted reservations. Most Native Americans now live in cities, where many are still trying to adjust to urban life; as a group, Native Americans face a 27 percent poverty rate and are still trying to reverse some of the lasting effects of federal policies that have put them at a disadvantage for hundreds of years.
The Indian Relocation Act of 1956 was the impetus for the relocation of the large number of Native Americans now living in urban areas. Though the act didn’t force people to leave their reservations, it made it hard for families to stay by dissolving federal recognition of most tribes, and ending federal funding for reservations’ schools, hospitals, and basic services—along with the jobs they created. Though the federal government paid for relocation expenses to the cities, and provided some vocational training, urban Native Americans faced high levels of job discrimination, and few opportunities for job advancement.
Minneapolis was one of the first cities chosen for the federal relocation program. Here, the Native American community has taken some bold steps to aid integration, such as opening public schools tailored to Native American students’ needs and maintaining the country’s only federally subsidized housing project for Native Americans. In the 1970s, Minneapolis became the headquarters of the national American Indian Movement, a civil-rights group. Among other achievements, it pressured the federal government to restore tribal recognition and sovereignty.