Indigenous peoples in The United States

According to the United States Census Bureau, approximately 5.1 million people in the U.S., or 1.7%, identified as Native American or Alaska Native alone or in combination with another ethnic identity in 2008. Around 2.5 million, or 0.8% of the population, identify as American Indian or Alaska Native only.

There are currently around 566 federally-recognized tribal entities in the United States (minus Alaska), most of these have recognized national homelands. More than half of American Indians live off-reservation, many in large cities.

Twenty-three per cent of the Native population live in American Indian areas or Alaske Native villages. The state with the largest Native population is California; the place with the largest Native population is New York City.

While socioeconomic indicators vary widely across different regions, per captia income in Indian areas is about half that of the U.S. average, and the poverty rate is around three times higher.

Relationship Between Indigenous Peoples and the United States

American Indian nations are theoretically sovereign but limited by individual treaties and federal Indian law, which is in flux and often dependent on individual U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

The government has treaty and trust obligations toward indigenous nations, stemming from historical land sales by Indian nations to the federal government and the assumption of a continuing guardianship over them.

Recognized Native nations are sovereign but wards of the state. The federal government mandates tribal consultation but has plenary power over indigenous nations. American Indians of the United States are in general American citizens.

Separate federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service, are responsible for the federal government’s responsibilities to Indian tribes.

Legislation on Indigenous Peoples

On December 16, 2010, the United States, which had voted against its adoption along with Canada, Australia and New Zealand, became the last country to reverse its position and express support to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

The United States has not ratified the ILO Convention No. 169.

Indigenous issues in the United States in 2014 continued to be centered around sovereignty and jurisdiction.

The relationship of tribes to the federal government, violence and socio-economic status, and resource extraction are continuing issues that impact Native nations. Changes in federal policy toward indigenous peoples are ongoing.

Yearly Update

Download the 2016 yearbook article on indigenous peoples in United States to learn more about major developments and events during 2015.