from the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and NCAI's Policy Research Center
In the lead up to the 2010 Census, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and many tribal partners conducted a significant outreach campaign, called “Indian Country Counts,” to increase Native political participation and government investment in American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) peoples. In analyzing the latest 2010 Census data, one thing is very clear about Indian Country: Native young people do count, and will count in the future.
American Indians & Alaska Natives in the Total Population
The Census collects data on the size of the American Indian and Alaska Native population “alone” and “in combination” with other races. In 2010, the Census counted 2,932,248 AI/AN alone people, and 2,288,331 AI/AN in combination, for a total of 5,220,579 AI/AN alone or in combination persons and an overall increase of 27 percent from the 2000 Census.
American Indians & Alaska Native Youth in the US Population
The AI/AN population from birth through age 24 makes up 42 percent of the total AI/AN population; whereas the under 25 population for the US is only 34 percent of the total population. Of the total 2010 AI/AN population, the Census reports that there are 888,372 American Indians and Alaska Natives under 18 who identified as American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) alone. That number rose to 1,651,224 for Natives who identified in combination with other races. This means that about 32 percent of Natives are under the age of 18, compared to only 24 percent of the total population who are under the age of 18. The median age for American Indians and Alaska Natives on reservations is 26, compared to 37 for the entire nation. Figure 2 below displays a population pyramid comparing the AI/AN population’s age distribution (on the left in red) to the total US distribution (on the right in blue).
There is a large bubble in the 15-19 age group for the AI/AN population, so even more Native young people will be able to vote in the next few years and will likely be headed to college or other advanced education and training pathways.
So what was happening between 1991 and 1995 when this large group of American Indian and Alaska Native youth were born? A Harvard study of 1990 and 2000 US Census data, that analyzed Indians living on reservations, showed that rapid economic development was taking root among non-gaming and gaming tribes alike. In the same decade, AI/AN family poverty rates dropped by seven percentage points or more in non-gaming areas, and by about 10 percentage points in gaming areas; and inflation-adjusted per capita income grew 2.5 times faster for Indians on reservations than for the US population at large.
American Indian & Alaska Native Youth in the State Populations
Some states have larger American Indian & Alaska Native youth populations than others. One of the most striking is South Dakota, which has a very young Native population. Of the 71,817 American Indians in South Dakota, nearly 40 percent are under 18 years old (see Figure 3).
State-level data displays of this sort can provide a sense of where the critical mass of Native youth are across the US and can encourage state leaders in certain states to understand how American Indian and Alaska Native youth demographics are important in their region.
According to the American Community Survey 2005-2009 estimates, 44 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives over 25 had attended at least some college. Twenty-four percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives had not finished high school or alternative and 12.8 percent had completed a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 27.5 percent of the US population.
The experiences of young people who live on reservation, trust land, in Oklahoma statistical areas, or in Alaska Native villages also have diverse experiences with education and attainment. When the AI/AN population is broken out by geographic component (see Figures 4 and 5), Native people in Alaska Native village statistical areas had the smallest percentage of people with a bachelor’s degree or higher, with four percent. However, much progress has been made. In Alaska, for example, the number of Natives who received four-year college degrees more than tripled between 1980 and 2000.
The children of Indian Country are making their way through schools, colleges, training programs, and the workforce, all while carrying their cultural traditions. Although disparities in achievement still exist, there is a much to celebrate, such as the growing cadre of second-generation Native college graduates, whose parents had received their own degrees. As we celebrate Native Heritage Month, we also look forward to the unique perspectives and contributions that our young people will share with the rest of the nation now and throughout their lives.
 Taylor and Kalt, American Indians on Reservations: A Databook of Socioeconomic Change Between The 1990 and 2000 Censuses, HPAIED, January 2005.