Census 2010: Native American/Alaskan And Native Hawaiian Populations Show Growth

The population data from the 2010 United States Census is being rolled out in May, and nationwide the population of Native Americans/Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians has experienced significant percentage growth since 2000.  The number of Americans identifying themselves as exclusively Native American or Alaska Native increased 18.4% in the past ten years, and the number identifying themselves as exclusively Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander increased 35.4%.

The Census reports the total population of the US as just under 309 million.  Native Americans/Alaska Natives comprise 0.9% of the total, or roughly 2.78 million people.  Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders comprise 0.2% of the population, or roughly 618,000 people.

Charts and detailed data from the 2010 Census can be accessed HERE.

2010 Census Count Improving For Native Americans

Responding to chronic failures to accurately account for Native populations in past years, the Census Bureau has actively sought to improve its outreach for the 2010 Census. The Bureau got an early start and partnered with Tribes throughout the country to connect with Tribal members. The initial results indicate a significant increase in the response rate for Tribal members, which should result in better federal representation for Native communities. The information the Census collects helps to determine the allocation of more than $400 billion dollars of federal funding each year, for projects such as hospitals, schools, emergency services, and transportation.

The Bureau partnered with groups such as the National Congress of American Indians and took a government-to-government approach, making formal presentations to all 564 federally recognized Tribes and asking permission to conduct operations on Tribal lands.

A prime example of the improved accounting in Native communities is found with the Tulalip Tribes, whose Census return rate by last month had hit 70 percent — even before Census workers started their direct outreach to individual Tribal members. In 2000, the Tulalip final return rate was 54 percent.

The Tulalip Tribes plan a news conference to thank the Bureau for its efforts. "We're deeply appreciative of the Census Bureau for understanding that Indian Country was underrepresented 10 years ago," said Tulalip Tribal Chairman Mel Sheldon. "We do not forget our history, it hasn't always been the best of relationships ... but there's a new era here, and we're looking forward with optimism." 

US Census Promises Special Focus On Native Population Count

The once-per-decade United States Census kicks off in April 2010, and the manager for the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Indian/Alaska Native Program is leading a focused effort to obtain an accurate count of the Native American and Alaska Native populations within the United States.

Program Director Curtis Zunigha, a member of the Delaware Tribe of Indians in Oklahoma, is already undertaking population counts in isolated sectors of Alaska, even though Census Day is April 1. “We’re actually beginning our remote Alaska operation in January. Many of the Alaska Natives engage in subsistence hunting and fishing in the spring in camps that our enumerators wouldn’t be able to find and they’re not going to get anything in the mail, so we’re going in early to the Native village of Noorvik. They’re a partner and the Tribal leadership has agreed to host the very first enumeration.”

Partnership is the key to a successful census, Zunigha said.

“After the first enumeration in Noorvik, we’ll be going village to village all across those remote areas all through the State of Alaska and getting these people counted early. And all the work that’s gone into building relationships and partnerships with the Native tribes and villages, all the outreach that’s gone into it to make people aware of the census, hiring people from the villages to be enumerators – all of that is a model of what we’re doing all across Indian country. If it happens the way we’ve planned in Noorvik, I expect a very positive response from Indian country over all.”

Data from the census is a primary element in determining the distribution of more than $400 billion in federal funding nationwide. For Native communities, that means funding for Indian Child Welfare, Children and Family Education, employment assistance, food distribution, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, housing, community development block grants, and numerous other programs. The data will affect policy and resource allocations for human service programs for Native communities throughout the country.

According to Zunigha, one of the most challenging aspects of census taking in Native communities is establishing trust.

“The whole idea of mistrust of the federal government – that’s no secret in Indian country – but I think the best thing to overcome that is to emphasis the partnership aspect of the way we’re doing the census in Indian country.”

“Tribal leaders know true tribal sovereignty and self-determination means you don’t let somebody else come in and figure out this data for us. We do it ourselves and we can do our own planning and development for business and communities. I fully expect tribal demographers and data analysts to be using the reports that will be generated. You can bet the people like Harrahs and Bally's and other casino companies are using census data to do long range planning for site locations and businesses. So a good and successful census for Indian country only helps support tribal sovereignty and self-determination.”