Census: Native count jumps by 27 percent

By Cindy Yurth
Tsé;yi' Bureau

WINDOW ROCK, Jan. 26, 2012

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America's Native population climbed by nearly a third between 2000 and 2010, surprising U.S. Census Bureau data analysts and delighting managers of federally funded programs whose budgets depend on official head counts.

"I think the numbers surprised us all," said Tina Norris, an analyst with the Census's Racial Studies Branch who authored a brief that was presented to the press Wednesday.

The American Indian and Alaska Native population increased by 26.7 percent in the last decade, compared to 9.7 percent for Americans as a whole.

This means Natives are now a slightly larger minority, comprising 1.7 percent of the population versus 1.5 in 2000.

There were 5.2 million American Indians in the county in 2010, compared to 4.1 million in 2000.

Navajos may be interested to hear that, for the first time, their full-blooded population surpassed that of Cherokees - 286,000 versus 284,000. (When mixed-race people are counted, however, the Cherokees are still far and away the largest tribe, with 819,000 souls versus 332,000 Navajos.)

Most of the 1.1 million increase in Native Americans - 645,000 - was attributable to mixed-race Natives. As a percentage of America's population, full-blooded Natives stayed the same at just under 1 percent.

With 44 percent of Natives mixed with another race, American Indians claim the second-highest proportion of mixed-blood people in America (Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are the first).

Most Natives (78 percent) live outside of their reservations, with full-blooded Indians more likely to live on their reservations than mixed-bloods.

Diné;, however, were far more likely to live on their reservation, with only 44,398 Navajos (13 percent) living off the Navajo Nation.

Navajos also had the largest percentage of full-bloods, 86.3 percent.

The Eastern seaboard, east Texas and Florida boasted the biggest increases in the percent of Native Americans, while the already Native-heavy Four Corners remained relatively flat.

Anchorage was the city with the highest percentage of Natives, 12.4, followed by Tulsa, Okla.; Norman, Okla.; Oklahoma City; and Billings, Mont.

When only full-bloods are counted, however, Albuquerque is fourth-highest, at nearly five percent.

Compared with the general population, American Indians tended to be younger (with a median age of 29 as opposed to 37) and poorer (with a median household income of $35,000 compared with $50,000).

More than 28 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives were living in poverty, compared with 15 percent of the nation as a whole.

Nearly a third lacked health insurance coverage.

However, more Natives were going into business, and those businesses were doing better than before. The 237,000 Native-owned businesses (up 18 percent from 2002) reported $34 billion in receipts in 2007, a 28 percent increase over 2002. These businesses employed more than 184,000 people.

Most of the money was made in construction, retail and wholesale.

Education-wise, 77 percent of Natives had a high school diploma or equivalent, and 13 percent had at least a bachelor's degree. This compares with 86 percent and 28 percent, respectively, among the general population.

While Navajos complain of losing their language, the Census data suggest it is fairly healthy, with 73 percent of on-reservation Diné; reporting speaking a language other than English at home.

Other tribes are not faring so well, with only 28 percent of Natives claiming to speak a language other than English in the home - just slightly higher than the general American population.

Most Native householders - 54 percent - owned their own home, but that is still far fewer than in the general population (65 percent). Of the 557,000 Native families, most (57 percent) were headed by a married couple.

The Native population increase, which the Census said could be partly due to outreach efforts on every reservation, will translate into dollars for federal agencies that target American Indians, Norris said.

"While the Census doesn't distribute money, we work with funding agencies who use Census data to determine their budgets," she said.

At the press conference on the brief, some questioners challenged the Census for letting people define themselves as Native without comparing the data to tribal census rolls.

"I think the challenge will be how to work interagency to better define what being American Indian is," Norris said.

The U.S. Census brief on American Indian and Alaska Native population can be downloaded at http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-10.pdf.

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