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Decennial Census Records

Censuses of American Indians

Despite being the original inhabitants of the land that is today the United States, American Indians and Alaska Natives have not always found themselves represented in the decennial census. Article 1 Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution originally excluded “Indians not taxed” from enumeration in the census. Accordingly, in the first census of 1790, most Indians fell under the status of “Indian not taxed” and were not counted by the census—the reason being that they lived apart from European and African inhabitants, usually under some sort of separate sovereignty recognized by a treaty, and did not vote or perform other duties related to citizenship.

1990 New Mexico Enumeration
An enumerator (right) conducts the 1990 Census in New Mexico
on horseback.

As the new country expanded west and encountered more Indian tribes, interest grew in counting their populations. For the 1850 Census, the Superintendent of the Census asked the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to provide a count of the various tribes and populations under his supervision. In 1860, a provision for counting Indians in the race/color category first appeared for Indians who had renounced tribal affiliation and lived with settler communities or in large eastern cities.

In the decades that followed, various territorial censuses counted Indian tribes sporadically, such as the Shawnee in Kansas or the Pueblo in New Mexico. In 1880, the Census Bureau conducted a special census of Native Americans as part of the decennial count for reservations in three western territories and states. Following 1880, when only a straight count was taken, and continuing throughout the period during which Alaska remained a territory, the Census Bureau utilized special schedules that allotted room for tribal information specific to Alaska Natives. In 1890, the Census Bureau made an effort to count all Indians, both taxed and untaxed, and the results were published in extensive monographs focused on the population, culture and customs of several tribes of the continental United States and Alaska. In 1900 and 1910, census enumerators counted continental-U.S. Indian populations with special Indian population schedules, and in 1920 and 1930 the normal questionnaires were used with special instructions for filling out the form for Indian respondents.

Passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 and subsequent legislation, established the status of American Indians and meant that they would be fully counted on the normal population schedules starting in 1940, a position solidified by the U.S. Attorney General that year in a letter to the Secretary of Commerce. The Census Bureau conducted one additional Indian Census, however, when the Bureau of Indian Affairs requested the 1950 Census include a separate schedule to enumerate reservation areas.

Finally, the widespread implementation of the mail-in census questionnaire in 1970 meant race and tribal affiliation became self-reported and no longer relied on the opinion of the enumerator, leading to a steady increase in the populations of American Indians and Alaska Natives in the ensuing decennial counts. A greater number of Americans began identifying themselves as American Indian and Alaska Native in 2000 and later censuses after following release of the Office of Management and Budget's Statistical Policy Directive, No. 15, Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting that permitted all census and survey respondents to identify as one of six races (i.e, White, Black, American Indian and Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander, Asian, Some Other Race), or more than one race (i.e., American Indian and Alaska Native and White, or three or more races, such as American Indian and Alaska Native, White, and Asian).

Available Records:

1850 and 1860 Censuses: A one-page report from the 1850 Census is the first official effort by the Census Bureau to tabulate American Indian populations. The data are incomplete and contain inaccuracies as does the 1860 report containing updated statistics.

Enumeration of Pueblo Indians, 1790–1939: Arranged by county, then village or Pueblo. The Spanish and Mexican governments conducted censuses in 1790, 1823, and 1845. The United States began conducting territorial censuses in 1850. The schedules provide name, relation to head of household, and often, age. Although the indication of race is often unreliable, many Pueblos are listed as non-White. The racial designation of inhabitants of Taos Pueblo, for example, is "copper" in the 1850 Census and "Indian" in the 1860 and 1870 Censuses. Not all Pueblos are included in the book indexes.

For more information about these microfilmed records, see the National Archives Census Enumeration of Pueblo Indians, 1790–1939.

1857 Shawnee Census: A census of the Shawnee Indian tribe was taken as part of the Kansas Territorial Censuses, 1855–1859. At the end of roll 1 of the 1857 Census is a census of Shawnee Indians in Kansas Territory, taken in conjunction with the treaty made with the tribe on May 10, 1854. The census is in two parts. Each part has a rough alphabetical index preceding it. In the index to part one, personal information such as relationships to other enumerated Shawnees has been added beside some of the names. In the census of Johnson County in 1858, Shawnee Indians in Shawnee County are listed. There is no name index for this census.

1930 Navajo Enumeration
Reverend Smith enumerates a Navajo family during the 1930 Census.

Microfilm Publication Title: 1857 Shawnee Census

Microfilm Publication ID/Catalog Info: M1813

1880 Special Census of Indians: A complete list of the tribes included in this census is found at the beginning of roll 1. There is no name index for this census. Section 8 of the Census act of 1879 (March 3, 1879), (20 Stat. 475), authorized the Census Bureau to enumerate all Indians not taxed; that is, those on reservations or in unsettled areas. With the budget provided, the Census Bureau undertook enumerations in Washington Territory, Dakota Territory, and California. The Census Bureau used a special Indian population schedule containing 48 questions. The descriptive pamphlet (DP) for M1791 contains a list of the questions.

Enumerations were completed for the following reservations in Washington Territory:

  • Roll 1—Tulalip and Port Madison
  • Roll 2—Swinomish, Muckleshoot, and Lummi
  • Roll 3—Yakima

An enumeration was completed for the following reservation in Dakota Territory:

  • Roll 4—Standing Rock

An enumeration was completed for the following reservation in California:

  • Roll 5—Round Valley

Microfilm Publication Title: 1880 Special Census of Indians

Microfilm Publication ID/Catalog Info: M1791

1890 Census: The 1890 Census reports for American Indians are comprehensive by state, although Alaska is published separately and contains information on the entire state as well as detailed tribal information. These reports also include information collected, but not published, for the 1880 Census. These monographs are very detailed and contain rare photographs and drawings depicting many aspects of American Indian and Alaska Native lifeways.

1907 Census of Seminole County, Oklahoma. This census was taken pursuant to a presidential directive ordering a census of the population of Indian Territory and the Territory of Oklahoma prior to their admittance to the Union as the State of Oklahoma. Only the schedules for Seminole County, in what was then Indian Territory, survive. Enumerators were to identify Indians by "In" in the color or race column. There is no name index for this census.

1950 Indian Reservation Schedule
View complete document [137KB, PDF]
1950 Census Indian Reservation Schedule.

Microfilm Publication Title: 1907 Census of Seminole County, Oklahoma

Microfilm Publication ID/Catalog Info: M1814

1910 Census: The final report for the 1910 Census contains detailed statistics about American Indians and Alaska Natives, but does not include photographs or detailed lifeways information like the 1890 report.

1930 Census: A report published containing 1930 Census data was the last for several decades focusing exclusively on the American Indian and Alaska Native population. The Bureau of Indian Affairs increasingly took responsibility for collecting data about American Indian and Alaska Native populations.

1950 Census: 1950 is the last decennial census for which the Census Bureau conducted a special census of American Indian and Alaska Native populations using a special "Indian Reservation" schedule. The special enumeration was conducted in conjunction with, and funded by, the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Census Bureau provided the 1950 statistics to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which published Resident Population on Indian Reservations Link to a non-federal Web site in 1956.

1970–2000: Starting in 1970, the Census Bureau made significant efforts to reach previously under-represented and undercounted populations, which included American Indians and Alaska Natives. This has continued every decade since 1980 (part 1/part 2), 1990 (We the First Americans), and 2000.

For more information:

Individual records are not released to the public until 72-years after the date of the census.

The 1940 Census records were released on April 1, 2012. The 1950 Census records were released on April 1, 2022. Records from the 1960 Census will be released to the publish on April 1, 2032.

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: March 17, 2022