Census paints new picture of Indian Country
Facebook Twitter Email
MARCH 13, 2001

The American Indian and Alaska Native population in the United States grew by approximately 26 percent over the past decade, according to Census Bureau figures released on Monday.

About 2.5 million Americans are American Indian or Alaska Native, up from about 1.9 million in 1990. At 0.9 percent of the total population, American Indians are the second smallest racial minority in the country, trailed only by Native Hawaiians.

But thanks to changes in how data was collected last year, a increasingly multi-racial picture of Indian Country is emerging with the results of Census 2000. For the first time in history, Americans were allowed to identify themselves as belonging to more than one race.

And while the overwhelming majority of the 281.4 million Americans who responded to Census 2000 chose only one race, nearly seven million opted otherwise. The result was the creation of 63 racial categories, compared with just five a decade ago.

With interracial marriages and mixed-race children a common occurrence in Indian Country, it was no surprise then that 1.6 million Americans identified themselves as American Indian and at least one other race.

Of these mixed Americans, the most common combination was "American Indian and White" (66 percent) followed by "American Indian and Black or African American" (11 percent). Some 7 percent went one step further and chose all three: "American Indian and White and Black."

When combined with single-race respondents, about 4.1 million Americans, or 1.5 percent of the population, considered themselves American Indian. This represents a whopping 110 percent increase over the past decade.

Already, these additional American Indians are raising questions on the effectiveness and integrity of the Census data. Some have questioned the increase as the result of a "Cherokee Indian princess" phenomenon, which one Census Bureau official acknowledged could have influenced how Americans responded to the Census.

"It may very well be that whole concept of persons recognizing for the first time they could in fact report more than one race and they may in fact be reaching back into their ancestors to identify as American Indian," said Claudette Bennett, chief of the Branch of Racial Statistics.

"We really don't know what individuals are trying to tell us about their heritage," she added.

In order to explore the issue, the Census Bureau plans on conducting field research beginning this summer to understand how Americans responded to the racial category question on the Census. Census Bureau officials, however, did acknowledge the multiple race categories, including the "Some other race" classification, could have confused Americans.

Census 2000 Profile:
Race and American Indians (Politics 2001)

Get the Census Results :
Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin (CENBR/01-1 3/12)

Relevant Links:
US Census Bureau -

Related Stories:
Redistricting to be based on raw Census data (Politics 3/7)
Tribes fear Census undercount (Politics 3/6)
Census recommends no adjustment (Politics 3/2)
Fight over Census data continues (Politics 2/21)
Clinton's Census Bureau policy reversed (Politics 2/19)
Census estimates show improvement (Politics 2/15)
Report warns of Census undercount (Politics 2/12)
Reservation counties among poorest (The Talking Circle 11/24)
Census reports on uninsured Natives (The Talking Circle 10/02)
Census: Native Americans among poorest (The Talking Circle 9/27)
National, state poverty data (The Talking Circle 9/27)
Most reservations miss Census target (The Talking Circle 09/20)
Tribal response rates: 1990-2000 (The Talking Circle 9/20)
Report: Native buying power increases (Money Matters 9/8)
Native purchasing power by state (Money Matters 9/8)
Native population on the rise (The Talking Circle 08/31)
Census data by state (The Talking Circle 08/31)
Reservations respond to Census (The Talking Circle 4/2