Dream Catcher

In September of 2015, a federal report was released examining the median household income for various racial groups in Minnesota – essentially establishing an average baseline of how much money families are earning. The report indicated that the median household income for African-Americans in Minnesota had contracted – or shrunk – nearly 3% from 2013 to 2014. This decrease occurred despite highly publicized accounts touting an expanding state economy. The African-American community was justifiably outraged and their local leadership condemned the Governor and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) for being ineffectual in their attempts to address the needs of their community. In response to this very real and very serious issue, Governor Dayton instructed DEED to form a new office to address this problem and last month the Office of Career and Business Opportunity was created. Additionally, yesterday Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk suggested that if a special session were held, the legislature should consider approving measures that “focus on challenges facing the black community in Minnesota.”

However, this same report – as released by the major local media outlets – contained zero (0) information about the American Indian families of Minnesota. For all intents and purposes, it appeared that once again we remained completely invisible to the power structures of this state, as well as to the federal government.

As a leader in education and workforce development, the American Indian OIC felt compelled to respond. How is our community fairing within this seemingly prosperous state economy – one that boasts a current unemployment rate of 3.7%?  If the numbers were bad, what type of response would the Governor or DEED have generated on behalf of the American Indian community? Would they choose to invest new resources for our people? Would the Governor have suggested the creation of an entirely new state government office on our behalf as well?

To answer these questions, the AIOIC approached DEED’s Commissioner, Katie Clark Sieben, and its Labor Market Information Director, Steve Hine, for help finding the data. Mr. Hine dug deeper into the very same US Census Bureau report that initiated the creation of the new Office of Career and Business Opportunity. He was able to find economic information pertaining to our American Indian community and the following was revealed:

  • The median household income for American Indian families in the state of Minnesota is $32,000. (Incidentally, the established Federal Poverty Line is a household income of $24,250 for a family of four.)
  • The unemployment rate for the American Indian population of Minnesota is 10.8%- nearly three times that of Minnesota’s overall unemployment rate.
  • 40.8% of our population is considered to be “not in the labor force” – and therefore not tabulated in the employment data because they are jobless and are not currently looking for work.

According to this data, 10% of our population is officially considered unemployed, while another 40% of our working-age people are not even in the labor force. Essentially 1 in 2 American Indians in the state of Minnesota are jobless. 

If these numbers are indeed accurate, then how can this be acceptable by our state officials?  Secondly, and no less important, where is the data being collected by our state offices – namely DEED – either to support or contradict these bleak indicators? Why are we all still dependent upon a federal report that lacks nuance and a proper understanding of our state’s population groups? Doesn’t DEED hold a responsibility to track, tabulate, and provide ongoing labor market data for all population groups within Minnesota? (To date, the AIOIC has not received any answers to these specific questions.)

Through the discussions that were held between the AIOIC, Commissioner Clark Sieben, and Mr. Hine, DEED has indicated that they too are equally troubled by the current lack of information regarding our people. “While the emphasis in the media has been on black median income, there are a number of sources that highlight Minnesota’s Native population including the American Community Survey census data released last month,” said Hine. “The state recognizes that significant employment disparities exist and that previous efforts to address them haven’t been enough – this will be the focus of DEED’s new Office of Career and Business Opportunity, which will continue to work with the AIOIC and numerous other organizations that provide support for populations of color in Minnesota.”

Furthermore, the data point noting that 40.8% of our people are “not in the workforce” was identified as a problematic statistic. This point refers to those individuals in our community who do not have jobs and are not actively looking for one. The reasons for why they are not looking can vary. Some of these people might be what is referred to as “discouraged workers” who do not believe there are meaningful jobs to be found and have essentially dropped out of the labor pool. This number might also include American Indian adults who are financially independent and simply do not need a job at this time. However, with an annual median household income of just $32,000, it would seem this portion of our community is likely very small. With regards to the “not in the workforce” data point, DEED could not offer any clarification, nor any data of their own.

So, without any further information or any data to support or debunk these bleak statistics presented by the federal report – the sickly assertion remains that 1 in 2 of our American Indian people in the state of Minnesota are jobless. Certainly, until either clarified or disproven such statistics are more than “insignificant” for our people, suggesting something unhealthy is at work within our state’s economy.

What the AIOIC proposes now is action.  First, action is required of our people to demand more information – more data – regarding the economic indicators for American Indians in Minnesota. This data must to be collected both at the state level as well as by professionals operating within our own community. Only after we have obtained this information can we come to a clear and objective understanding regarding the true economic health of our people. A doctor would not treat a patient without first finding out the symptoms or learning as to how the illness has manifested within the body. Until such actions are taken, the sickness will remain unchecked within our community and will be able to spread itself at will – thus perpetually compromising our people’s ability to thrive …

Action is absolutely required on the part of the Governor and DEED to work in concert with the American Indian community and our community-based organizations to begin to officially identify, tabulate, and address the economic disparities currently affecting our people. Despite the current lack of quantifiable data, we know these disparities are real and continue to wield great debilitating power– causing much suffering for our people in real-time. We are reminded daily of these economic maladies for our community members continue to come through our doors at the American Indian OIC seeking effective treatment through our offered services.  What is now needed is the data to corroborate the experiences of our people and our front-line service providers, to strategically guide their curative work going forward, and to bring all available resources to bear commensurate with properly remedying the generated diagnosis.

Whoever controls the data controls the story of our people. Whoever controls the story dictates the future actions that can and will be taken on our behalf. Most importantly, whoever controls the story often dictates how many resources will actually reach the people. This very point was recently reaffirmed through the creation of the Office of Business and Career Opportunity as a response to a single digit contraction of African-American household income. The same type of motivation and commitment is required for the American Indian people too.

We have come upon the one year anniversary of the AIOIC’s “Statistically Insignificant” blog of 2014 – whereupon its release generated a groundswell of grass-roots engagement – your engagement – that caught the attention of our state officials. It appears that we are now emerging from the shadows of being dismissed as being not important enough to research and collect data for, but in light of recent events, we as a community have still so much further to go.

It is time to stand up and be counted! It is time to demand action by your state government to address our needs the same as they would for any other population here in Minnesota! We must get the data so that we can control our own story! Therefore it is time to begin an accurate and ongoing gathering of information about our American Indian community so we can truly learn where we are as a people, properly analyze our economic health in real-time, and validate our struggles to bring about meaningful action and the necessary resources to effectively heal the disease of chronic economic disparity.

Call or email Governor Dayton (651-201-3400); call or email Commissioner Clark Sieben (651-259-7114); and call or email Senator Bakk (651-296-8881). Let them know we need real-time and accurate data for and about our people. Let them know our community needs infusions of resources now to help alleviate the protracted economic ailments that continue to compromise the vitality of our people and our state. Let them know as a representative of the First Nations of this land that you refuse to remain invisible any longer – that you indeed count for something!

If you do not use your voice, you will never be heard. If you do not stand up to be counted, you will forever remain invisible. Rise, speak, demand.  The future belongs to us – but only if we positively assert that it does so. It is beyond time we claim our rightful place as leaders in this state – leaders who demonstrate how to generate action amongst their own. Leaders who compel governments to acquiesce to the will of their constituents. Leaders who are capable of healing the sickness of their own, and in so doing can also exemplify to others how they too can do the same.

We look forward to hearing from a rising chorus of voices singing forth songs inspired by our elders … We are hereWe remain . . . We will thrive . . . We will lead

Call or email and demand that all Minnesotans deserve current and accurate data about their communities. Call or email your demand that all Minnesotans need to be counted.

For all of our non-Indigenous supporters, those who sympathize and support the American Indian people of Minnesota, and to all those ardent supporters of the AIOIC specifically- join us. Your support, your voice, will add powerful harmonies to our collective song. Join us to support our American Indian community. Join us in this call for action if you support an economy that works on behalf of all Minnesotans.