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New study examines the housing experiences of urban Indigenous people

A woman laughs as she holds a laughing baby who wears a yellow jacket
This image comes from a partnership between the Urban Indian Health Institute and TONL – an agency that produces culturally diverse stock photos – to create "We Exist," the first ever stock image library of urban American Indians and Alaska Natives. There is little research on the housing experiences of American Indian and Alaska Native people in urban areas, but one Indigenous researcher at Western University in Canada is hoping to change that soon.

An Indigenous professor is conducting a national study to learn more about the housing experiences of millions of American Indian and Alaska Native people living in urban areas.

“Often when we talk about Indigenous people in America specifically, we think that Indigenous people only exist on reservations,” said Sofia Locklear, the lead researcher and an associate professor at Western University in Canada who is a member of the Lumbee tribe. “It isn't about an either/or, like reservation-based versus urban-based. It's about coming to understand both of those experiences together.”

There is little research on the housing experiences of American Indian and Alaska Native people in urban areas, but it is the experience for millions of them. The Indian Health Service states that about 70% of AIAN people live in urban areas.

“There's really almost no sociological research on the housing experiences of urban Indigenous people. It's quite sparse and that's a problem,” she said. “To have a relocation of funds, or the allocation of funds, is reliant on data. It helps in the allocation of resources and data also informs policy.”

Anyone who is American Indian or Alaska Native and lives in or near an urban area in the U.S. can join. First, participants express interest in being interviewed by filling out a Google form. Then, they meet with Locklear over Zoom to give consent and discuss their experiences living in urban areas as an Indigenous person. The interview consists of questions about housing type, condition and experiences finding housing. Participants, who remain anonymous, receive compensation for their time and will see the results before they are available to the public.

“Whether it's just living in the city to come to school, whether it's being born and raised in a city, most Indigenous people will probably experience that kind of urban housing experience at some point,” Locklear said.

Locklear's research is funded in part by a grant from the University of Michigan's Research for Indigenous Social Action and Equity Center, or RISE. She launched the study two months ago, hoping to find 50 participants. Since then, she’s received nearly 800 responses from Indigenous people.

“That signals that people want to talk about this,” she said. “You know, I'm getting emails, people saying, 'I really want to tell you my story about trying to find housing.'”

While there are no concrete results yet, Locklear said responses reflect the country’s colonialism and racism toward Indigenous people.

“Everybody I've talked to sure has so far had some hard things happen in their experiences of finding housing, but they also are really brilliant at navigating that,” she said.

Locklear believes the data could help provide equity for Indigenous people when it comes to housing.

“Housing is a human right,” she said. “When we figure out how to provide housing and human rights for everybody, that creates a better collective and healthier society.”

Anyone interested in participating in the study can fill out this Google form or contact Sofia Locklear directly at slocklea@uwo.ca.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

I'm the General Assignment Reporter and Back-Up Host for KUNC, here to keep you up-to-date on news in Northern Colorado — whether I'm out in the field or sitting in the host chair. From city climate policies, to businesses closing, to the creativity of Indigenous people, I'll research what is happening in your backyard and share those stories with you as you go about your day.
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