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Official Recommends Shift From Social To Economic Programs For Indians

September 26, 1985

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Indian agencies in American cities must change their emphasis from providing social services to setting up businesses, says a federal official holding a meeting on economic strategy for Indians.

″We think a native American Chamber of Commerce is a good idea,″ William Lynn Engels, commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans, said Wednesday. ″It puts you out where you are talking to business people rather than the feds. If you want to establish a business, you don’t want to talk to feds, you want to talk to somebody who’s been doing it for 30 years.

″Then, once you have a couple of successes, it snowballs. People realize you can do it.″

About 750,000 of the nation’s 1.3 million Indians are living off reservations, and the population is growing rapidly, Engels said during a conference that drew about 200 Indian leaders from centers in about 100 cities.

The conference runs through Friday.

The urban Indian population is concentrated in Los Angeles, Seattle, Minneapolis, Chicago, Denver, Phoenix and Albuquerque - a result of federal relocation policies of the 1950s, when post-war jobs were scarce.

The ANA, which serves Indians not served by the Bureau of Indian affairs, annually makes about $29 million in grants to local Indian agencies, Engels said. The agency receives about $90 million in requests, and two of every three requests must be rejected, he said.

″Our emphasis on granting money now is for social and economic development projects. At the end of the grant period, we want to see self-sustaining programs,″ he said. ″The Reagan administration is trying to promote self- sufficiency. We’re telling them that we want them to use our money to move toward self-sufficiency.

″We think they should take a look at economic development as an added tool to run their centers.″

Although some Indians arriving in cities today are equipped with white- collar job skills or other specialized training, many are unskilled and unprepared for the culture shock of city life, Engels said.

Unemployment rates for Indians in cities generally are about the same as for other minorities, according to Engels. Unemployed Indians face problems of alcohol and drug abuse, he said.

The switch in emphasis at ANA met with protest at first, said Chet Ellis Jr., director of the Heart of America Indian Center Inc. in Kansas City.

″A lot of agencies, including ours, were violently opposed,″ said Ellis. ″We are a social service agency, and they want to make us into an economic development agency.

″I agree with the new approach. But as of today, I don’t have the staff or the revenue to go out and create a model business.″

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