The release of 2020 data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows significant increases in the country’s Native populations.
All multiracial groups gained percentages compared to the overall population. In the 10 years since 2010, the number of people the Census categorizes as American Indian and Alaska Native increased from 5.2 million to 9.7 million. In 2020, the American Indian and Alaska Native alone population (3.7 million) accounted for 1.1 percent of all people living in the United States, compared with 0.9 percent (2.9 million) in 2010.
The American Indian and Alaska Native alone population grew by 27.1 percent, and the American Indian and Alaska Native in combination population grew by 160 percent since 2010. The White and American Indian and Alaska Native population also increased, growing by about 2.5 million people or 177 percent, making it the second largest Multiracial combinations in 2020 (4 million).
As for percentages of population, several states have American Indian and Alaska Native alone as the second largest racial or ethnic group after Whites. Alaska (14.8 percent) was the most predominantly American Indian state, followed by New Mexico (8.9 percent), South Dakota (8.4 percent), Montana (6 percent) and North Dakota (4.8 percent).
In Arizona, American Indians and Alaska Natives make up 3.7 percent of the population, a slight increase. Montana’s Native population accounted for 6 percent of its residents, slightly less than the rate recorded in 2010, when the Census Bureau estimated that American Indians living on reservations were undercounted by nearly 5 percent.
The population jump has implications for things like congressional and legislative districts. It also affects representation in civic engagement and resource distribution. After the Census Bureau reported that American Indians living on reservations and Alaska Natives were undercounted by approximately 4.9 percent in the 2010 survey, several groups including the Native American Voters Alliance Education Project in New Mexico launched efforts to achieve an accurate count. The work of the New Mexico group led to the creation of a state coalition of tribes, tribal organizations and other groups.
The Census is an opportunity to provide a better future for our communities and future generations. A complete and accurate count of American Indians and Alaska Natives throughout the United States contributes to better planning and decision-making for Indian Country and helps determine how billions of dollars in federal funding is distributed to communities and tribes for programs and grants.
Every uncounted Native person means losing over $30,000 per person over 10 years and fewer services for our communities. Census data is the basis for the federal funding allocations of more than $675 billion annually, of which $1 billion is dedicated to Indian Country. These funds are used to build tribal housing and make improvements, maintain and construct roads and provide employment and training programs. The National Indian Council on Aging wants to make sure Indian Country is accurately represented in the upcoming decennial count and encourages tribal communities to support the Census.
How the Census Helps
As mandated by the Constitution, every 10 years the U.S. counts everyone living in the country. The census is the only complete count of the U.S. population, and results in data for the nation as a whole and for every geographic area within it — down to the smallest American Indian reservation and Alaska Native village. The census is the only source of this kind of data, with thousands of uses that may impact Native people. The federal government and local American Indian and Alaska Native leaders and policymakers will utilize Census data to benefit Native people and communities.
Census results are the basis for congressional representation and help determine how $675 billion in federal funds are distributed each year to support vital programs in states and communities across the country. These funds shape local health care, housing, education, transportation, employment and public policy. That includes money for things like first responders, Medicare Part B insurance for all people over 65, Supportive Housing for the Elderly Program, libraries and community centers, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Senior Community Service Employment Program.
Although most funding comes from the treaty obligation, the government uses census data to determine how much. Census data determines how $675 billion of federal funding is distributed, which communities need attention and resources from the government and private sectors, as well as schools, housing, Indian Health Service and business investments.
By knowing how many people live in a community, organizations and businesses are better equipped to evaluate the services and programs needed, such as clinics, schools and roads. Census data is also used to help redraw district lines so the number of congressional seats in the U.S. House of Representatives matches the population correctly. Past undercounts of Native populations have deprived hundreds of thousands of American Indians of their voice in government.
Census Especially Important for Tribes
Accurate data is especially important for Indian Country as American Indian and Alaska Natives have the highest undercount of any ethnic group. Native communities are at risk of receiving little resources if the census is inaccurate. Some American Indians live in hard-to-count census tracts. More than 80 percent of reservation lands are ranked among the country’s hardest-to-count areas.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported an undercount of American Indians and Alaska Native populations in previous censuses. Nationally, the Census Bureau estimates that American Indians and Alaska Natives living on reservations or in Native villages were undercounted by approximately 4.9 percent in the 2010 census, more than double the undercount rate of the next closest population group. In 1990, there was a 12.2 percent undercount of American Indians on reservations and a 0.7 percent undercount in 2000.
Tribes do not provide enrollment numbers to the Census Bureau, so it is important that all American Indians and Alaska Natives participate in the Census. Even if you live in urban or other off-reservation areas, your tribe will not count you in the census.
Tribal governments play a critical role in ensuring a complete and accurate count of American Indian and Alaska Native populations. Census data affects tribal citizens and resources, and the trusted voices of tribal leaders can help to ensure a complete and accurate count in tribal communities. To establish a partnership between your tribe or village and the Census, contact your regional census center.
Census Includes Tribal Affiliations
In the Census, individuals and households will have the opportunity to self-identify as American Indian or Alaska Native. They also will be able to write in up to six tribal affiliations on the form. Be sure to write in your enrolled or principal tribe(s) if applicable. Look it up on the tribal website or ask your tribe about their preference in how their name is written.
An individual’s response is based upon self-identification. No proof is required. No one will require a tribal enrollment card or a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood.
Many Native people can claim descent from several tribes because their parents or grandparents may have belonged to different tribes. However, most tribes currently do not permit “dual enrollment,” or membership in more than one tribe. The tribe in which the person is enrolled should be the first tribe listed. Filling out these questions on the census form will help ensure that the Census is accurate and reflects the true diversity of Indian Country.
The Census Bureau uses the information provided on the Census form to tabulate statistics on how many people are associated with a tribe or a group of tribes sharing a similar language or other characteristics. This data can help to provide an idea of the number of persons associated with a tribe living on the tribe’s lands or reservation, in a particular city or in another off-reservation area.
Even on a reservation there may be a significant number of people who are not enrolled in the tribe with jurisdiction over that reservation. These counts will show up in the Census Bureau’s numbers on a reservation when tabulated by tribe. Tribal leaders, planners, grant writers and others can use this information to supplement enrollment data and other data sources.
Census Takers in Indian Country
The Census is available online — however, that may not be an option for remote villages where internet connectivity is poor. Every household will also have the option of responding by mail or by phone. Nearly every household will receive an invitation to participate in the Census from either a postal worker or a census worker. While the majority will receive their census invitation in the mail (around March 12-20), almost 5 percent will get their invitation when a census taker drops it off.
In these areas, most households may not receive mail at their home’s physical location (like households that use P.O. boxes or areas recently affected by natural disasters). Less than 1 percent will be counted in person by a census taker, instead of being invited to respond on their own. This is implemented in remote areas like parts of northern Maine, remote Alaska and in select American Indian areas that ask to be counted in person.
Census takers will visit all households that were invited to respond on their own and haven’t. The best way to avoid a visit from a census taker is to fill out the Census questionnaire online, by phone or by mail as soon as you receive your invitation to participate.
Additionally, you might see census takers in your neighborhood for different reasons. They may be verifying addresses in preparation for the census, collecting responses to the census or another survey, dropping off census materials or conducting quality checks related to the census. You can explore where the Census Bureau plans to send address canvassers with this interactive map.
If someone visits your home to collect information for the Census, you can check to make sure that they have a valid ID badge, with their photograph, a U.S. Department of Commerce watermark and an expiration date. If you still have questions about their identity, you can contact your Regional Census Center to speak with a Census Bureau representative.
It is important to know that the Census Bureau will not send unsolicited emails to request your participation in the Census. The Census Bureau also will never ask for your Social Security number, bank account, credit card numbers, money, donations, or contact you on behalf of a political party.
Responding to the Census is easy, important and safe. Responses to the Census are confidential. Personal information is never shared with any other government agencies or law enforcement, including federal, local and tribal authorities. Responses are compiled with information from other homes to produce statistics, which never identify your home or any person in your home. The Census Bureau is bound by federal law to protect your information, and your data is used only for statistical purposes.