Racial shifting common among Americans who claim Native roots

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) claims Cherokee heritage but has resisted calls for documentation. Photo from Facebook

The controversy over the racial identity of Rachel Dolezal, the former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Spokane, Washington, is nothing new to Indian Country.

Everyone has heard of the mythical Cherokee princess grandmother. Or knows about the late Iron Eyes Cody, who portrayed himself as Native American even though family members and Native actors said he wasn't.

But it's not just family lore behind the stories. There's actual data that shows how many Americans believe they have Native ancestry, The Washington Post points out.

Rachel Dolezal, right, and Marilyn Jones Mosby, state attorney for Baltimore, Maryland. Photo from Spokane NAACP

"In fact, between 2000 and 2010 (the nation’s two most recent Census counts) the share of people who identified themselves as part Native American grew by a whopping 39 percent in a single decade, nearly four times faster than the nation's population as a whole," Janell Ross writes for the paper. "That’s nearly 650,000 people who were multi-racial in 2012 who did not consider themselves thus in 2000. Racial shifting is real."

The growth wasn't the result of a baby boom in Indian Country, Ross notes. It came because the U.S. Census Bureau allowed people to self-identify with more than one racial group for the first time in 2000.

Some 1.4 million Americans self-identified as American Indian and White in 2010, according to a Census report.

American Indian and White biracial adults are the largest multiracial group, according to the new study. Image from Pew Research Center

A more recent study also highlights the racial shifting. According to the Pew Research Center, American adults who claim Indian and White ancestry represent 50 percent of the mixed-race population in the U.S., the largest segment.

Adults with Indian and African American ancestry followed with 12 percent, according to Pew. A smaller segment -- 6 percent -- claimed Indian, White and African descent.

The data means some 68 percent of multi-racial Americans claim descent from the original nations of the U.S.

Get the Story:
What Rachel Dolezal has in common with 650,000 Americans (The Washington Post 6/15)
Rachel Dolezal’s world crumbles after racial identity flap (AP 6/16)
Rachel Dolezal’s claims ‘lost the trust’ (The Spokesman-Review 6/16)
Police oversight panelists say Dolezal said in interview father was black police officer (The Spokesman-Review 6/16)

Pew Research Center Report:
Multiracial in America: Proud, Diverse and Growing in Numbers (June 2015)

Related Stories
Gyasi Ross: The Native roots of the bizarre Rachel Dolezal drama (6/15)
Americans of Indian and White heritage represent largest group (6/11)

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