Thursday, October 24, 2013

How many Native Americans are there in the US?

Q: I'm in 7th grade and I'm writing an essay on Native Americans for Language Arts class. I'm learning a lot, but I can't find the correct number of Native Americans in America anywhere. I see some numbers on the Internet, but they're all different from each other so I don't know which one is right! Can you help me find the answer and also a good source I can cite? I am not allowed to use Wikipedia.

A: Thanks for writing. The main reason you are finding multiple different answers to your question is that different people define "being Native American" differently!

1) There are about two million official members of Native American tribes in the United States. The exact number today is not known, because the tribal population count is not updated every year. In 2005, the number of Native American tribal members in the US was 1,978,099. It has probably gone up since then. You can cite the Bureau of Indian Affairs website for that number.

2) There are about three million people in the United States who identify their own ethnicity as Native American. According to the Census Bureau Website, in 2010, the number of Americans who identified themselves as American Indian or Alaska Native was 2,932,248. Besides Native American tribal members, that number also includes indigenous people from other countries (Native Canadians, Mexican Indians, etc.), people who belong to tribes that are not recognized by the federal government, and people who have family members who are Native American tribal members but never joined the tribe themselves.

3) According to the same website, there were an additional 2,288,331 people who identified themselves as part Native American in 2010. If you add that to the people from #2, that makes a total of 5,220,579 Americans who told the census they have any American Indian or Alaska Native heritage at all, even if it is just a Native American great-great-grandmother in their family tree. Since many other people also have Native American ancestry and just never mention it to the census, this number is definitely inexact-- but no one knows exactly how many Americans truly have some amount of Native American blood. I've heard it suggested that more than 50% all Hispanic Americans do, and as many as 5% of other Americans. But unless every person in America wants to do genealogy research or get a DNA test, those are merely guesses!
Hope that information helps. Have a good day,
Native Languages of the Americas

Further reading:
Native American tribes
Native American ancestry


  1. Thank you for your informative website and blog. My daughter was able to complete her American Indian project with your information! She enjoyed learning about the Hopi tribe.