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National American Indian Heritage Month — November 2003

November — designated as National American Indian Heritage Month by President George Bush, in 1990 — is a time to recognize and celebrate the achievements, heritage, art, history, and traditions of American Indians.

How Native American Heritage Month Began

The celebration of Native American heritage began at the turn of the century, when Dr. Arthur C. Parker, the director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, N.Y., and a Seneca Indian, convinced the Boy Scouts of America to celebrate a day for the “First Americans.” For three years the scouts honored American Indian Day.

In 1915, the annual congress of the American Indian Association, led by its president, Rev. Sherman Coolidge, an Arapahoe, approved an official American Indian Day and on September 28, 1915, Rev. Coolidge issued the proclamation. Not only did this proclamation begin a day to honor Native Americans, it was also the first appeal for recognition of American Indians as citizens.

And, in 1916, New York was the first state to officially declare the second Saturday in May as American Indian Day. Proclamations have been issued annually from the White House since 1994.

Native Americans/Alaska Native Populations in the U.S. Today

According the 2000 Census, there are 281.4 million people in the United States; of these, 4.1 million or 1.5 percent, reported themselves as American Indian/Alaska Native. Of the 4.1 million, 2.5 million reported to be only American Indian/Alaska Native, while 1.6 million reported being American Indian/Alaska Native as well as one or more races. Following is the is breakdown of the 1.6 million as reported in the 2000 Census:

  • 1,082,683 - American Indian/Alaska Native and White
  • 182.494 - American Indian/Alaska Native and Black or African American
  • 112,207 - American Indian/Alaska Native and White, Black or African American
  • 93,842 - American Indian/Alaska Native and some other race
  • 172,119 - All other combinations including American Indian and Alaska Native

Four out of every 10 American Indians, or approximately 43 percent of the total Indian population, live in the American West. The South is home to 31 percent of American Indians, the Midwest 17 percent, and the Northeast nine percent. Over half of all people who reported to be American Indian live in just 10 states. The 10 states with the highest American Indian population, listed in descending order, are: California, Oklahoma, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, New York, Washington, North Carolina, Michigan, and Alaska. California has an American Indian population of 627,562 and Oklahoma has 391,949. In 21 states, American Indians comprise less than one percent of the total population.

There are several American Indian tribal groups whose populations consist of 100,000 or more individuals. They are, in order of size: Cherokee, Navajo, Latin American Indian, Choctaw, Sioux, and Chippewa. Forty percent of all Native Americans claim to be a member of one of the six tribal groups.

Population projections show that the American Indian/Alaska Natives population will reach 2.2 million by 2006, and 2.4 million by 2015.

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