January 27, 2012

Natives aren't vanishing in Census

Adrienne Keene writes about the 2010 Census brief on Natives in her Native Appropriations blog:

Complicating the 2010 US Census Native DataThe lead headline for the census press release is "2010 Census Shows Nearly Half of American Indians and Alaska Natives Report Multiple Races." I already, right there, see that as problematic, wrought with assumptions, and loaded with colonial underpinnings. But we all know I think that about most things. Ha.

To "over-sensitive" and "easily offended" me, the headline is a commentary on the "realness" of the American Indian population, loaded with western/colonial conceptions of blood quantum and racial purity as markers for belonging and identity. This, to me, screams "Real Indians are disappearing!!!" But since we have been "disappearing" for 500 years, despite our growing population numbers, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. The real number is 44% identify as more than one race, which is different to me than "nearly half." They could have just as easily said "56% of AI/AN population identifies solely as Native!" which tells a very different story. The majority of our peeps still identify as only AI or AN. We are not disappearing.

Reading the report (which is available in PDF and I highly recommend flipping through), there are many, many things they could have focused on, like the fact the Native population has increased at a rate much greater than the overall population, or that the ability to self-designate tribal group for the first time created new tribal categories (like "Hopi" being counted outside of "Pueblo"), but they instead focused in on the racial categories.
Adrienne also notes something I've noticed before: the use of "tribal groupings" such as Cherokee, Choctaw, and Mexican American Indian. She writes:I also have some problems with the groupings erasing individual tribal identities--"Chippewa" is both an antiquated term as well as not a tribe, same with "Iroquois" or "Sioux."Comment:  As I said before, I agree that the headline and focus on the multiple-race issue is a little weird. I'm still not sure what the message is, although "Real Indians are disappearing!!!" could be it. "The percentage of people who checked more than one race is intermediate, about what you'd expect," isn't much of a hook.

For more on the 2010 Census, see and States with Most, Fewest Indians and Oklahoma's 2010 Census Numbers.

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