Majority of Native Americans Live in Rural Areas and Small Towns, Not in Urban Areas as Commonly Reported, According to New “Twice Invisible” Report

Longmont, Colorado, April 20, 2017 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — LONGMONT, Colorado (April 20, 2017) – First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) today published a report that clears up a longstanding “urban legend” that has had a negative impact on Native communities. The report – Twice Invisible: Understanding Rural Native America – challenges the commonly held belief that the majority of American Indians and Alaska Natives live in cities and urban areas.

The Twice Invisible report looks closely at Census data and uses a definition of “rural” areas developed by the Housing Assistance Council that is calculated with a formula that takes into account population and housing density. Using this definition, First Nations’ researchers found that 54% of American Indian and Alaska Native people, or a majority, live in rural and small-town areas on or near reservations, contrary to common myths.

“An outdated measure of ‘urban’ areas has been used by the Census Bureau for a long time,” said Michael E. Roberts, President and CEO of First Nations. “Their definition of ‘urban’ includes small towns of less than 4,000 people. We felt the need to clear up some misconceptions and, in doing so, hopefully improve the distribution of resources to these rural and small-town areas. This is part of our longstanding work of elevating the Native voice and working to change the narrative about American Indian and Alaska Native people. We don’t want rural communities to be left out.”

“We kept hearing from many different foundations that they were using the statistic that 72% of Native Americans live in urban areas, which is often reported by researchers,” shared Eileen Egan, Associate Director of Development at First Nations. “That didn’t sound right to us. We felt a responsibility to dig deeper since it impacts the distribution of resources. We know that most of our grantees and many of our partners reside and work in remote, small-town areas that we, or anyone, would never define as ‘urban’.”

“First Nations’ mission has always been to work with rural American Indian and Alaska Native communities, which are often left out of mainstream funders’ program areas,” said Raymond Foxworth, First Nations’ Vice President of Grantmaking, Development and Communications. “The erroneous 72% statistic was being widely used to direct money away from these rural areas, where the populations often struggle with higher poverty rates and many other economic and social disparities. We felt it was important to understand where this number was coming from and how accurate it was. We feel it is much more accurate to say that 54% of American Indians and Alaska Natives, or a majority, live in rural and small-town areas.”

In addition, the report found that the majority of American Indians and Alaska Natives, or 68%, live on or near their home reservations. “We understand the challenges associated with using Census data to understand rural Native America, but we believe that only with carefully analyzed data can we have an accurate understanding of rural Native America, and make rural Native America visible again,” said Sarah Dewees, First Nations’ Senior Director of Research, Policy and Asset-Building Programs. “We hope this report will be useful to funders and nonprofit staff who are designing programs to effectively serve Native American people.”

The report was authored by Dewees and Benjamin Marks, First Nations’ Senior Research Officer, and was made possible by support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Catalyzing Community Giving initiative. The full report can be downloaded from the Knowledge Center on the First Nations website at this link.  (Note: In the Knowledge Center, if you don’t have one already, you will need to create a free online account in order to download the report. Your account will also give you access to numerous other free resources in the Knowledge Center.)

First Nations will hold a free, one-hour webinar on Wednesday, May 3, 2017, also called “Twice Invisible: Understanding Rural Native America,” to discuss this report further. It will be held at 10 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time (9 a.m. Pacific / 11 a.m. Central / Noon Eastern). To register, go to After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

About First Nations Development Institute

For 36 years, using a three-pronged strategy of educating grassroots practitioners, advocating for systemic change, and capitalizing Indian communities, First Nations has been working to restore Native American control and culturally-compatible stewardship of the assets they own – be they land, human potential, cultural heritage or natural resources – and to establish new assets for ensuring the long-term vitality of Native American communities.  First Nations serves Native American communities throughout the United States. For more information, visit

CONTACT: Program Contact:
Sarah Dewees, First Nations Senior Director of Research, Policy and Asset-Building Programs
(540) 371-5615 or 

Media Contact:
Randy Blauvelt, First Nations Senior Communications Officer
(303) 774-7836 x213 or