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Native population soars in new Census count

The latest data released from the U.S. Census shows a considerable increase in the Native American and Alaska Native populations. (Gathering of Nations 2019 file photo).

Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Aug. 12 shows the number of people who identify as Native American or Alaska Native alone grew by 27.1% to 3.7 million people from 2010 to 2020. The number represents 2.9% of the overall U.S. population, up from about 1.6% in 2010.

Another 5.9 million people identified as Native American or Alaska Native and another race group, such as white, Black or Asian American. The alone and in-combination population comprised 9.7 million people in 2020 – an increase of 160% since 2010.

At 15.2% (111,575 people,) Alaska had the largest percentage of its population identifying as Native American or Alaska Native alone; New Mexico was second with 10% of its population (212,241 people); and California had the largest population in total numbers with 631,061 people.

The new Census numbers mark the largest Indigenous population in the U.S. in modern history – astonishing when one considers that after decades of mass extermination efforts the population was fewer than 250,000 just before the 20th century.

The jump in the numbers also lines up with an increasingly diverse U.S. population. Census officials said the white, non-Hispanic population (without another race) decreased by 8.6%. The U.S. is now 57.8% white, 18.7% Hispanic, 12.4% Black and 6% Asian.

“America is more diverse than ever. Today’s news is great news. It’s a strength, not a weakness,” Yvette Roubideaux, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and vice president for research and director of the policy research center at the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), said during an online press briefing Aug. 12.

Numbers could be greater

Even with Indian Country’s increased numbers, officials said there was still likely an undercount. Reasons include wide-spread pandemic shutdowns, a lack of broadband internet needed for what was the first all-digital Census, a general distrust in the U.S. government among some, online misinformation and new privacy measures that may have caused problems with the quality of data in small, rural and remote populations.

Gwynne Evans-Lomayesva (Hopi Pueblo), a researcher at the NCAI policy research center, said that despite multiple challenges, Indian Country showed resilience throughout the Census process.

“We had wildfires and hurricanes and Tribal Nations worked really well with Census officials,” Evans, who spoke at the media briefing, said.

Evans said NCAI would be analyzing the Census data in more detail in the coming weeks and would release its own report.

“The results we saw today with the increase compared to 2010 was a pleasant surprise,” she said.

The Census is mandated by the U.S. Constitution to take place every 10 years. The data affects much of American life and is used to determine political representation and the distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars in annual federal funding. The data released Aug. 12 is meant to inform the official redistricting process at the state and local levels.

“We are encouraging all Tribal Nations to participate in their local and state redistricting efforts to ensure that Tribal Nations are fairly represented and have access to the resources they need and deserve,” NCAI president Fawn Sharp (Quinault Indian Nation) said in a statement.

Census officials said more data is scheduled to be released Sept. 30 in an easy to use format for the general public.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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