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Native American population jumps to largest size in modern history, growing 27% in last decade

The indigenous population's growth has been helped by years of resistance and legal battles over tribal sovereignty and civil rights.

Native American population jumps to largest size in modern history, growing 27% in last decade
GRAND CANYON, AZ - MARCH 20: Hualapai tribal dancers gather for opening ceremonies for the first official walk of the Skywalk on March 20, 2007 on the Hualapai Reservation at Grand Canyon, Arizona. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

People who identify as Native American or Alaska Native have grown by 27.1% to 3.7 million people over the last decade, according to the U.S. Census. This is their largest size in modern U.S. history, and it signifies huge progress considering indigenous people were nearly wiped out in the U.S before the 20th century by the Americans. Mass extermination, forced boarding schools, and land theft had reduced the population to less than 250,000 people at the time. The indigenous population's growth was aided by years of resistance and legal battles over tribal sovereignty and civil rights. Meanwhile, the White alone population accounts for 204.3 million people and 61.6% of all people living in the United States.

POST FALLS, ID - JULY 23: Native Americans dance in the grand entry of the Julyamsh Pow Wow in Post Falls, Idaho on July 23 2004. The Julyamsh is touted as the largest pow wow in the Northwest. (Photo by Jerome Pollos/Getty Images)


According to the census, in 2020, the Native American and Alaska Native alone population accounted for 1.1% of all people living in the United States. That's a jump compared with 0.9% in 2010. An additional 5.9 million people identified as Native American and Alaska Native and another race group in 2020, such as white or Black American. Together, the Native American and Alaska Native alone or in-combination population comprised 9.7 million people in 2020. The combination population grew by 160% since 2010. Alaska has the largest percentage of its population (15.2%) identifying as solely Native American or Alaska Native, followed by New Mexico, with 10% of its population identifying as solely Native American. In absolute numbers, California is top of the list with 631,061 Indigenous people. With the indigenous population being spread out, they haven't been able to mobilize to gain political power. States like Arizona, where voting restrictions are being implemented will make it harder for Navajo Nation members to vote. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is the first Native American to serve as a U.S. Cabinet secretary.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 29: Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland departs the stage after delivering remarks at an event commemorating the delivery of the Red Road Totem Pole to the Biden Administration on July 29, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Red Road Totem pole was carved by the House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation and was delivered during a welcome ceremony on the National Mall July 29, 2021 in Washington, DC. The House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation transported the totem pole from Washington state to Washington, DC. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Native Organizers Alliance)


"The numbers really do reflect the diversity that we're seeing today in the real world and in Indian Country. So we're very pleased with it," said 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, reported Axios. "But again, we think it may also be an undercount, due to the privacy measures and other challenges with the Coronavirus pandemic." 


The cultural genocide of the indigenous people made news recently, following the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential schools for Indigenous children in Canada. Many such schools were also operated by the U.S. Catholic and Protestant churches. As we reported, the schools, operated by the Church, sought to assimilate and Christianize them. U.S. Catholic and Protestant denominations operated more than 150 boarding schools between the 19th and 20th centuries. “We cannot even begin to imagine the deep sorrow these discoveries are causing in Native communities across North America,” said Chieko Noguchi, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Mount Rushmore on Native American sacred ground

In many ways, the celebration of America is rooted in the oppression of the indigenous population. Last year, Oglala Sioux President Julian Bear Runner said Mount Rushmore is a "great sign of disrespect" to their community and called for it to be removed. Mount Rushmore National Memorial is carved out on the Black Hills region, on Native American sacred ground, and features the faces of four former presidents — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. "The United States of America wishes for all of us to be citizens and a family of their republic yet when they get bored of looking at those faces we are left looking at our molesters," said Harold Frazier, the chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, in a statement at the time, reported CNN.


The Black Hills region was granted to the Lakota in perpetuity as part of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 but the agreement was broken by the federal government after gold was found in the region, reported USA Today. Miners rushed to the region under an expedition led by General George Custer in 1874 and demanded the US Army's protection. Having already granted the land to the Native American tribe, the US government, using The Indian Appropriations Act of 1876, cut off all rations. The government refused to budge, demanding that Lakota end hostilities and concede Black hills to the federal government.


The US Court of Claims ruled that the federal government's forced takeover of the region violated the fifth amendment. The U.S. Court of Claims found that the Sioux Nation of Indians was entitled to $17.1 million in compensation because of the government's seizure of the Black Hills and thus violated the Fifth Amendment. The Native American tribe refused compensation because it would legally end their demand for the Black Hills to be returned to them. 

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