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Alaska & Alaska Natives in the 2010 Census

census information centerFirst Alaskans Institute (FAI) has the privilege of serving as the designated Census Information Center (CIC) for Alaska.  The U.S. Census Bureau established the CIC program to provide regional points of contact to help users better understand Census data, particularly with regard to minority groups, such as Alaska Natives.

Here’s a brief overview of Alaska & the Alaska Native population from the 2010 Census:


Many sources report that AI/AN people make up just 15% of the State population, but doing so disenfranchises more than 33,000 multi-racial Natives.  When FAI reports the Native population, we use the 19.5% (or 20%) figure, as it’s the most inclusive view of our peoples; AI/ANs are 17% of the voting age population in Alaska.


American Indians & Alaska Natives are the largest minority in Alaska, larger than combined population of all other minorities in Alaska.  In fact, although there are states with higher populations of AI/AN people, Alaska has the highest percentage of AI/AN people, both alone and in any combination, of any State in the U.S. (can be manually calculated using data in the link provided).  Anchorage has the highest percent of AI/AN people of any city in the U.S. with 100,000+ people, both for AI/AN alone (7.9%), and alone and in any combination (12.4%).


Alaska Natives (alone or in any combination) are a young, growing population:


                                                                     Alaska Natives         Alaskawide           Nationwide


American Indians in Alaska

The full Census category is “American Indians & Alaska Natives” or AI/AN, but it is sometimes clearer to shorten the name to “Alaska Natives” because, although we value & cherish American Indians living in Alaska (which includes Central & South American Indians), they comprise a very small share of our total population.  For example, a Census report on the AI/AN population based on the 2007-2011 American Community Survey (ACS) 5-Year Estimate broke down the AI/AN population in Alaska by tribe.  The ACS estimated only 4,903 (± 599) of 97,628 (± 1,803) AI/AN people in Alaska self-identified as American Indians, implying Indians make up approximately 5% of the AI/AN population, and less than 1% of the State population.  Although that Census report doesn’t specify, the figure cited appears to represent the ‘AI/AN alone’ estimate, which the full 2007-2011 ACS 5-Year Estimate indeed reported as 97,628 (± 1,803).  The full ACS report estimated the ‘AI/AN alone or in combination’ population to be 135,379 (± 830), comparable to the 2010 Census count of 138,312.[1]


Specific Tribal Groupings of Alaska Natives in the U.S.

The vast majority of Alaska Natives live in Alaska.  As seen in the table below, there are 168,783 Alaska Natives in the U.S. as a whole.  Since there are 138,312 Alaska Natives in Alaska, that implies that 82% of the Alaska Native population lives in Alaska, and 18% (n = 30,471) live outside Alaska; anecdotal evidence suggests many of these Natives live in the Pacific Northwest.  Yup’ik and Inupiaq are the largest Alaska Native cultural groups.

Adapted from: Table 7. American Indian and Alaska Native Population by Selected Tribal Groupings: 2010 American Indian and Alaska Native alone American Indian and Alaska Native in combination with one or more other races American Indian and Alaska Native alone or in any combination
One Tribal grouping reported Two or more Tribal groupings reported One Tribal grouping reported Two or more Tribal groupings reported
Alaska Native tribes, specified 98,892 4,194 32,992 2,772 138,850
     Alaskan Athabascan 15,623 804 5,531 526 22,484
     Aleut 11,920 723 6,108 531 19,282
     Inupiat 24,859 877 7,051 573 33,360
     Tlingit-Haida 15,256 859 9,331 634 26,080
     Tsimshian 2,307 240 1,010 198 3,755
     Yup’ik 28,927 691 3,961 310 33,889
Alaska Native tribes, not specified 19,731 173 9,896 133 29,933
Grand Total 118,623 4,367 42,888 2,905 168,783


Context of Alaska Natives in the Nationwide Indigenous Population

The 2010 Census reports there are 5.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives in the U.S., meaning we collectively represent 1.7% of the 308.8 million people living in the U.S.  Of those 5.2 million AI/AN people, Alaska Natives represent just 3.2%: we are a minority of a minority.  However, as noted in these course materials from UAF’s Tribal Management 112 class, since 1993, the Alaska Native villages recognized in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) have been recognized by the Federal government as Indian Tribes, with “all the immunities and privileges available to other federally acknowledged Indian tribes by virtue of their government-to-government relationship with the United States as well as the responsibilities, powers, limitations and obligations of such tribes.”  The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) currently recognizes the existence of 229 Alaska Native Tribes meaning Alaska Native Tribes constitute 40% of the 567 Tribes the BIA recognizes in the U.S.


Additionally, as noted briefly above, the ‘American Indian / Alaska Native’ Census count also includes Indigenous peoples from Central & South America, such as Mayan Indians, Aztecs, etc.  The relevant definition, from the US Office of Management & Budget (OMB), states: “‘American Indian or Alaska Native’ refers to a

person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment. / The American Indian and Alaska Native population includes people who marked the ‘American Indian or Alaska Native’ checkbox or reported entries such as Navajo, Blackfeet, Inupiat, Yup’ik, or Central American Indian groups or South American Indian groups.” (See for example this Census brief, also cited above, on the AI/AN population in the 2010 Census.)


Relationship of Tribes to the Census Bureau

The Census Bureau’s department of Intergovernmental Affairs maintains an office dedicated to Tribal Affairs, and in 2009 the Bureau adopted an official set of policies to guide interactions with Tribal governments.


2020 Census

As part of its preparation efforts for the 2020 Census, the Bureau has published a handbook for Tribal Consultations, accessible here (link also contains contact info for any Tribes interested in submitting input and comments to the Bureau).  Additional overviews of the Tribal Consultation process are accessible on the Census.gov web site here or here, and notes from a Bureau webinar on Tribal Consultations held April 2016 are accessible here.


For more information on the Bureau’s planed changes for the 2020 Census, see the Bureau’s “2020 Census” page here.  Additionally, see the “2020 Census Operations in Alaska” page on the State Department of Labor & Workforce Development (DLWD) here; see the DLWD “Alaska Census Data & Information” page here for general information on Census data in Alaska; and finally, you can sign up for email updates from the DLWD on various topics, including the 2020 Census, here.