A Look at the Latest Population Trends for Native Children

Updated October 4, 2023 | Posted August 22, 2023
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A Native American boy smiles at the camera as he climbs a rock wall.

The Unit­ed States is locat­ed on the ances­tral lands of Native nations and its found­ing includes acts of oppres­sion, geno­cide and the cul­tur­al era­sure of Indige­nous peo­ples. This long and unset­tling his­to­ry occurred before and after the cre­ation of the Unit­ed States. Despite this, Native nations con­tin­ue to show resilience and lead­er­ship, and they are con­tribut­ing pos­i­tive val­ues and exper­tise in all sec­tors of soci­ety today. As our nation con­tin­ues to face the con­se­quences of this painful lega­cy, remov­ing bar­ri­ers to oppor­tu­ni­ties for Indige­nous peo­ples is crucial.

A Word on Native Amer­i­can Terms

Sev­er­al terms are com­mon­ly used to encom­pass the wide­ly het­eroge­nous orig­i­nal peo­ples of North, Cen­tral and South Amer­i­ca, including:

  • Amer­i­can Indi­an and Alas­ka Native;
  • Amer­i­can Indian;
  • First Nations;
  • Native Amer­i­can;
  • Native; and
  • Indige­nous.

While using spe­cif­ic Native nation names is prefer­able when refer­ring to indi­vid­u­als or sin­gle groups, these broad­er terms are meant to refer to the many dif­fer­ent Native nations in what we now call the Unit­ed States. Ter­mi­nol­o­gy is evolv­ing and deeply per­son­al, and pref­er­ences vary on which labels to use. This post pri­mar­i­ly uses Amer­i­can Indi­an and Alas­ka Native (AI/AN) to be con­sis­tent with the data sources referenced.

Amer­i­can Indi­an and Alas­ka Native Chil­dren Have Decreased in Num­ber but Not Percentage

Over the last two decades, the num­ber of Amer­i­can Indi­an and Alas­ka Native (AI/AN) chil­dren has declined by near­ly 130,000, from 693,726 in 2000 to 565,719 in 2022, although their share of the U.S. child pop­u­la­tion has remained steady at 1%. These fig­ures rep­re­sent those who iden­ti­fy as AI/AN alone, not in com­bi­na­tion with anoth­er race or eth­nic­i­ty. Among child age groups, the largest child pop­u­la­tion decrease over the last decade occurred for young chil­dren birth to age 4 com­pared with old­er chil­dren. The young adult pop­u­la­tion ages 18 to 24 has declined as well, by near­ly 10,000 in the last 12 years.

AI/AN adults, over­all, also com­prise 1% of the nation’s adult pop­u­la­tion but, unlike chil­dren and youth, their num­bers increased by almost 450,000 since 2000, reach­ing 1,855,253 in 2022.

When look­ing at those who iden­ti­fy as AI/AN in com­bi­na­tion with anoth­er race, the num­bers are sig­nif­i­cant­ly larg­er and grow­ing. For instance, in 2021, the total AI/AN pop­u­la­tion, includ­ing all ages and AI/AN in com­bi­na­tion with anoth­er race, was approx­i­mate­ly 8.75 mil­lion, up by 73% from 5 mil­lion in 2010.

Where Do Amer­i­can Indi­an and Alas­ka Native Chil­dren Live?

The major­i­ty (56% in 2022) of AI/AN chil­dren live in sev­en states: Okla­homa, Ari­zona, New Mex­i­co, Alas­ka, Cal­i­for­nia, South Dako­ta and North Carolina.

AI/AN chil­dren rep­re­sent about one-fifth (18%) of the child pop­u­la­tion in Alas­ka, the largest share of any state in 2021 and pri­or years. South Dako­ta and New Mex­i­co have the next largest shares, with AI/AN kids com­prising about 1 in every 10 chil­dren in those states (11% and 10%, respectively).

See a map of young adult populations

Pop­u­la­tion data for the Indige­nous peo­ples of Hawaii, Amer­i­can Samoa and oth­er Pacif­ic Islands are cap­tured sep­a­rate­ly by U.S. Cen­sus Bureau and typ­i­cal­ly pre­sent­ed as a broad­er group, Native Hawai­ian and Oth­er Pacif­ic Islanders.”

See pop­u­la­tion data for Native Amer­i­can and Pacif­ic Islander children

State-Lev­el Trends for Amer­i­can Indi­an and Alas­ka Native Children

A 2023 report on child pop­u­la­tion trends, com­mis­sioned by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, found the fol­low­ing changes for AI/AN chil­dren between 2010 and 2020. The analy­sis is based on the decen­ni­al cen­sus, rec­og­niz­ing that the 2020 cen­sus under­count­ed AI/AN chil­dren and the total child population.

The largest increas­es in the num­ber of AI/AN chil­dren occurred in three states:

  • Mon­tana (922)
  • Alas­ka (648)
  • North Dako­ta (455)

The largest increas­es by per­cent­age occurred in D.C. and two states:

  • Dis­trict of Colum­bia (20%)
  • Mon­tana (4%)
  • North Dako­ta (4%)

The biggest loss in num­bers of AI/AN chil­dren occurred for:

  • Okla­homa (-8,598)
  • Ari­zona (-7,762)
  • North Car­oli­na (-5,983)

The biggest loss in per­cent­ages of AI/AN chil­dren occurred for:

  • Puer­to Rico (-43%)
  • Hawaii (-36%)
  • New Hamp­shire (-35%)

More About Native Nations

There are 574 fed­er­al­ly rec­og­nized Native nations, each with its own dis­tinct eth­nic iden­ti­ties, cul­tures and his­to­ries. These sov­er­eign nations share land with 35 states, accord­ing to the Nation­al Con­gress of Amer­i­can Indi­ans (NCAI), and they are eli­gi­ble to receive ser­vices from the U.S. Bureau of Indi­an Affairs. While these diverse nations span many states, approx­i­mate­ly 40% (229 of 574) are locat­ed in Alas­ka. How­ev­er, the fed­er­al­ly rec­og­nized nations do not rep­re­sent all groups. Native nations include all Indige­nous peo­ples in the Unit­ed States and its ter­ri­to­ries, such as those in Hawaii, Amer­i­can Samoa, Puer­to Rico, Guam and oth­er Mar­i­ana Islands.

State gov­ern­ments can also rec­og­nize Native nations sep­a­rate from the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. The NCAI reports that there are 334 fed­er­al­ly- and state-rec­og­nized Amer­i­can Indi­an reser­va­tions, although most AI/AN peo­ple live off-reser­va­tion in urban set­tings.

Inequities in Health and Well-Being

While the resilience and assets of Native peo­ples remain strong today, his­tor­i­cal wrongs have led to dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly worse health and socioe­co­nom­ic expe­ri­ences for AI/AN chil­dren, youth and fam­i­lies com­pared to the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion. These dis­par­i­ties stem from social deter­mi­nants of health, includ­ing gen­er­a­tions of poli­cies, dis­crim­i­na­tion and past trau­ma. AI/AN com­mu­ni­ties also face the cur­rent cri­sis of miss­ing and mur­dered indige­nous women and girls. A forth­com­ing blog post will focus on inequities in health and well-being among these chil­dren and fam­i­lies. It will rec­om­mend ways to work togeth­er to ensure that all AI/AN chil­dren have equi­table oppor­tu­ni­ties to thrive.

More Data and Resources on Native Communities

Gen­er­al Resources

Select­ed Reports

Data Resources

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