US States With The Largest Native American Populations

Russell Begaye, President of the Navajo Nation and the 27,000-square-mile reservation its 174,000 residents live on in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.
Russell Begaye, President of the Navajo Nation and the 27,000-square-mile reservation its 174,000 residents live on in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.

10. South Dakota (71,817)

Today, approximately 71,817 Native Americans dwell in the U.S. State of South Dakota, with seven tribal governments with reservation boundaries, and two others lacking reservation boundaries. Together, the tribes constituting the Sioux Nation play a significant role in South Dakota’s rich cultural heritage. According to historians, the Native American tribes of Dakota, Nakota, and Lakota migrated into this land from Minnesota. The primary occupation of the tribes involved herding buffaloes, an animal they hold sacred in their culture. Winter counts (spirally arranged drawings on animal hide) were used to record their history. They live together in "bands" which are further divided into smaller groups called "tiyospaye" (extended family groups). Like many other Native Americans, the Sioux Nation people also regard nature as holy, and always strive to live in harmony with the natural world without disturbing the ecological balance.

9. New York (106,906)

Before the arrival of European settlers, the New York region of the past was occupied by two major groups of Native Americans. The territories near the Atlantic coast were occupied by the Mohican and Munsee tribes, who spoke the Algonquian language, and the territories further inland were occupied by Iroquoian tribes, including the Mohawks, Senecas, Onondagas, Oneidas, and the Cayugas. During the struggle between the British and the French for control over the land, the Native American tribes formed allies with the former, which was one of the primary reasons for the ultimate British victory in the region prior to the American Revolution. Currently, the natives of New York occupy such reservations in the state as the Cattaraugus Reservation, the Allegany Reservation, and the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation. The natives belonging to these reservations have a diversified economy based on recreation, tourism, construction, and communications. Tax-free cigarette and gasoline sales and gaming casinos are also significant sources of revenue for the native peoples of New York.

8. Alaska (104,871)

Iñupiat, Eyak, Tsimshian, and Yupik are some of the indigenous peoples of Alaska, which are also known as Alaskan Natives. The ancestors of these people arrived in Alaska thousands of years ago, and settled across the northern reaches of North America. Since these people hardly migrated towards the southern parts, they are not genetically close to the Native Americans of South America. The U.S. Government established the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANSCA) in 1971 to settle disputes related to land and natural resources lost by these Natives to European Americans. 13 Alaska Native Regional Corporations were set up as administrative units to allow the Natives to settle their claims for land and resources. Reservations were also ended with the establishment of the ANSCA, with the exception of that of the Tsimshian group. However, these Natives still enjoy the right to harvest marine mammals from the seas around Alaska, as per the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. The economy of the Alaska Natives today is primarily based on this and the gathering of other subsistence food stuffs.

7. Washington (103,869)

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans occupied large areas of land for thousands of years in what is now part of the U.S. state of Washington. The Northwest Coast Indians and the Plateau Indians were the two culturally distinct groups of Natives occupying territories in the region. When the Europeans first started exploring the area, their initial encounters were with the Chinook, Coastal Salish, Yakima, and Nez Percé tribes. Missionaries from Europe were at first welcomed by the natives, as they were able to gain knowledge about the European world from them. However, as the Europeans began to settle in their territories and claimed their own rights over the land, wars between the invaders and the natives ensued, with notable examples being the Yakima War (1855-58) and Nez Percé War (1877). As the 19th century drew to a close, most of the Native Americans were pushed to settle in reservations. Three tribal groups, the Coastal Salish, the Interior Salish, and the Sahaptin, formed the primary groups representing the reservations, and many smaller groups were integrated into these three larger ones. Currently, Washington state has 29 federally recognized Native Indian tribes, and the revenue generated from tribal enterprises (such as the gaming industry) is playing a major role in the state’s economy.

6. North Carolina (122,110)

North Carolina has the sixth largest American Indian population in the United States, with 122,110 natives occupying the state, as per the most recent U.S. Census. Eight Indian tribes are recognized by the state. Namely, these include the Eastern Band of Cherokee, the Coharie, the Waccamaw-Siouan, the Sappony, the Lumbee, the Meherrin, the Haliwa-Saponi, and the Occaneechi Band of Saponi Nation. In North Carolina, most of the Indians do not live on reservations, though are still members of state- and Federally-recognized tribes.

5. Texas (170,972)

In the past, the Texas region was the homeland of several American Indian groups, including Cherokees, Kiowas, Shawnees, Caddos, Apaches, and others. The invading Europeans gradually eradicated the natives from their Texas homelands so as to occupy their territories. Today, the American Indians of Texas are primarily concentrated within three reservations. These are the Alabama--Coushatta Indian Reservation, the Tiguas Reservation, and the Kickapoo Reservation. The Alabama--Coushatta Indian Reservation, east of Houston, is the largest among the three, and stretches over an area of 4,593 acres. The other two reservations are located in the valley along the Rio Grande. Tourism forms an important part of the economy of the people of these reservations, and the Kickapoo Reservation also has a casino that is open to outside visitors.

4. New Mexico (193,222)

New Mexico’s indigenous inhabitants included the Native Indians who occupied the land almost 10,000 years before the arrival of Europeans there. The Pueblo Indians were the most peaceful residents of the region, and had a well developed agricultural system. It is estimated that the nomadic tribes of Navajo and Apache Indians, with a more aggressive temperament, arrived much later, in the 15th Century. Currently, the presence of Native Americans is highly visible throughout the state of New Mexico. The 22 tribes of the region live in settlements referred to as "pueblos", such as the Acoma Pueblo, Cochiti Pueblo, Isleta Pueblo, and several others.

3. Arizona (296,529)

Arizona has the third largest American Indian population (296,529) of all states in the United States. Each Native American tribe in the state has its own distinct culture, but is united by a common heritage. The Apache, Papago, Navajo, and Yuma are some of the well-known tribes of this region. More than 20 American Indian reservations occupy about one fourth of the entire land of Arizona. These reservations are granted their own rights to make and enforce the laws of their respective lands. The Navajo Nation and the Tohono O’odham Nation are the first and second largest reservations in Arizona, respectively. Hunting, fishing, and, above all, tourism are responsible for sustaining the livelihoods of these reservations' inhabitants.

2. Oklahoma (321,687)

The region of Oklahoma was one of the oldest recorded regions to have settled human occupation in what is now the United States. Its abundant natural resources made it an ideal place for human settlements. The Wichitas, Caddos, Quapaws, and Plains Apaches were the indigenous tribes of the Oklahoma region before the arrival of the Europeans. As a consequence of the cultural changes introduced by the entry of the Europeans, a number of new Native Indian tribes, including the Kiowas, Pawnees, Delawares, and others from the Southeast U.S., were forced to enter the land and create their own territories in Oklahoma, which was once referred to as Indian Territory. Currently, there are about 39 tribal governments in Oklahoma, with 38 of them being federally recognized.

1. California (362,801)

With a population of 362,801 Native Americans, California has the largest indigenous population in the United Sates. Prior to the time of European arrival in the California region, the natives of the region shared cultural intimacy with those of neighboring areas. For example, the Native Indians tribes of the Washoe in the Sierra Nevada region shared traditions with those living in the Great Basin Region. Meanwhile, the Mojave and Quechan Indians, living in the Colorado River Valley, shared their culture with the Southwest Indians. As the region was extremely rich in natural resources, competitive pressures among the tribes were low, and they led overall relatively peaceful and sedentary lifestyles. With the arrival of the Europeans, a period of oppression and cultural disintegration followed within the Native communities. The population of these native tribes plummeted down to only 15,000, from a probable pre-contact population of 250,000. Since the start of the 20th Century, indigenous people living on reservations in California became the norm. The remaining Native Americans settled in these reservations with their own tribal councils to handle legal and social matters within the tribal community. The Native Americans of California in the early 21st Century are hardly distinguishable from other people in the state, on the basis of their lifestyles, jobs, and education. However, indigenous culture and traditions are still practiced on the Native American reservations in California, which also act as popular tourist spots, boosting the state's and its reservations' respective economies alike.


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