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National Native American Heritage Month: Celebrating Tribal Identity with Data

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During November, we have been celebrating National Native American Heritage Month, also referred to as American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) Heritage Month. This heritage month is an opportunity to pay homage to and commemorate the traditions, languages, stories, achievements, sacrifices, and legacy of Native American, Alaska Native, and affiliated Indigenous communities to help ensure their rich histories and contributions continue to thrive with each generation.

This year’s theme is “Celebrating Tribal Sovereignty and Identity.” Tribal sovereignty is the inherent authority of tribes to govern themselves, which means respecting the space where tribes honor and preserve their cultures and traditional ways of life. It also means that decisions about tribes’ rights, citizens, and property are made with their full participation and consent.

Tribal sovereignty is a concept that the U.S. Census Bureau takes seriously. In my office, we work directly with tribal governments on a nation-to-nation basis, listening to ideas and concerns as well as discussing matters of policy, legislative concerns, and providing updates on our agency’s products, programs, and initiatives.

We meet frequently with tribal leaders; for example, just a few weeks ago, I was honored to be invited to address leaders and representatives from 33 tribal nations at the United South and Eastern Tribes Annual Meeting. And just this week, I held a listening session with Alaska Native leaders and representatives at the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Annual Providers Conference in Anchorage. As I told attendees at both meetings, our work together is of the highest priority, and we are constantly seeking to strengthen our nation-to-nation relationships. 

From listening to Indian country partners, we know that those nation-to-nation relationships requires active, continuous communication. In response to that feedback, in 2022, we established a new Tribal Relations Program. We now have four full-time specialists dedicated to tribal relations between decennial censuses. They meet with tribal leaders, officers, and urban Indian partners across the nation, and allow us to have more ears on the ground to listen to their concerns. They also help us to work with AIAN populations to better understand their needs and concerns, and ultimately to provide tribal nations and AIAN individuals with better, more relevant data.

Meeting with representatives from tribal nations at the United South and Eastern Tribes Annual Meeting in October 2023

As the nation’s premier statistical agency, the Census Bureau is a rich source of data on our AIAN population. We know that communities and tribes rely on data from the Census Bureau to understand who they are, their challenges, their accomplishments, and their needs. We know that these data are used widely, such as for governance, and for public health and economic planning. That’s why we’re so committed to producing the quality data tribal communities rely on and deserve.

This year, we have had a trove of releases of datasets on race and ethnicity – some of which I highlighted in my blog this summer, including the 2020 Census Detailed Demographic and Housing Characteristics File A, or Detailed DHC-A. This release provides data for 1,187 detailed AIAN tribes and villages. Did you know that Cherokee made up the largest share of the American Indian alone or in any combination population (23.8%), followed by Navajo Nation (6.7%), Blackfeet Tribe of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation of Montana (4.7%), and Choctaw (4.0%)? When considering the Alaska Native alone or in any combination population, Tlingit made up the largest share (9.3%), followed by Aleut (5.7%), Yup'ik (Yup'ik Eskimo) (5.7%), and Alaskan Athabascan (4.8%).

We also recently announced our plans to engage AIAN stakeholders on the design of new experimental statistical products. Until now, the Census Bureau has primarily published statistics that delineate AIAN as a category within larger and more generalized statistical products. But going forward, we are taking a closer look at what we produce and seeking input from stakeholders to better inform what we collect and produce under our Title 13 statutory authorities.

This month – and, indeed, every day of the year – we recognize and pay homage to the tribes that were here long before our country was born. As we advance the mission of the Census Bureau, we continue our efforts to increase our engagement with tribal nations and to understand and mitigate unique barriers for Indigenous and tribal access to our data and resources. By working together, valuing diverse perspectives, and committing ourselves to collaboration and excellence, we can produce more useful statistics about the American Indian and Alaska Native population to better meet their needs.

Page Last Revised - December 12, 2023
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