WASHINGTON — One in four American Indians lives in California or Oklahoma, according to the 2000 census. Cherokee and Navajo are by far the tribes most often checked off on forms.
A report being released Wednesday shows 4.1 million people claimed to be all or part “American Indian or Alaska Native.” In the 1990 census nearly 2 million people checked off that race, though figures are not directly comparable because of differences in the way race and ethnicity data are tallied.
California led the nation with 628,000 people identifying themselves as members of the race, followed by Oklahoma with 392,000 and Arizona with 293,000.
The Census Bureau used a massive advertising and outreach effort to improve its American Indian count, especially on isolated and hard-to-reach reservations. For many tribal governments, results are crucial to secure accurate funding from the federal government, said Louis Tutt, the Navajo Nation’s census liaison.
The 2000 head count found 298,197 people who were all or part Navajo, a total that includes those people living off Navajo land.
“We think we have reached 100 percent of the people for the first time,” Tutt said by telephone from tribal headquarters in Window Rock, Ariz. “The result of the count is very satisfying.”
Among tribal groupings, only the Cherokee, numbering 729,533, surpassed the Navajo. Cherokee Nation spokesman Mike Miller said that while his Tahlequah, Okla.-based government took an active role during census-taking, they think their population was undercounted.
“The paradox is that there is an undercount here in Cherokee Nation because of its rural nature,” Miller said. The Census Bureau has considered releasing a second overall population count based on adjusted data, which many Democrats say would offer a more accurate count of minorities. But last year the bureau twice recommended against adjusted data.
The bureau cited much lower undercount rates among minority groups — on American Indian reservations, for instance — among its reasons to stick with the raw head count for redrawing political lines and distributing federal funds.
The latest report showed that 40 percent of those who selected American Indian or Alaska Native took advantage of a first-ever option to check off more than one race on their form. Because of a long history of intermarriage between American Indians and whites, demographers had predicted that American Indians would have one of the highest percentages of people who were multiracial.