Title Multiculturalism in the United States

Title Multiculturalism in the United States

Section to Scan The politics of ethnic authenticity: building native American identities and communities / Joane Nagel

ISBN/ISSN Search URL

• httDs://roaer.ucsd.edu/search~S9?/i0761986480 (alk. paper)

R E P R E S E N T A T I O N S O F R A C E A N D T H E P O L I T I C S O F I D E N T I T Y

9

The Politics of Ethnic Authenticity: Building Native American Identities

and Communities Joane Nagel

No one knows for sure how many indigenous North Americans were present when Colum­ bus landed in 1492, although estimates sug­ gest that numbers were in the several mil­ lions. Over the next 400 years, there was a dramatic decline in the native population; by the end of the nineteenth century, the U.S. Census Bureau counted fewer than 250,000 Native Americans in the United States.1 The decrease in the number of native people was accompanied by a marked reduction in the number of native societies or “tribes.” Dis­ tinct language and dialect communities at the time of contact were estimated at more than 1,000 (Swanton 1952).2 This number has dwindled to around 320 Indian groups or “entities” in the lower 48 states that are offi­ cially recognized by the U.S. Department of the Interior in the 1990s.3

In spite of these declines, the twentieth century has seen a remarkable increase in the American Indian population, from its nadir of 237,196 in 1900 to 1,874,536 in the 1990 census (Snipp 1989; U.S. Census Bureau 1991). This growth is summarized in Table 9.1. As we can see, native population figures

for the past 90 years represent a reversal of 4 centuries of decline in the North American Indian population: beginning with fewer than one half million at the turn of the cen­ tury, climbing back up to nearly 2 million in 1990. Although these trends reflect a tragic pattern of death and decline, they also reveal an extraordinary trend toward recovery and renewal. The twentieth century resurgence of the American Indian population is a truly re­ markable story of ethnic survival and re­ birth.

Population projections undertaken by the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) in 1986 suggest that Native American demo­ graphic recovery is far from over. The OTA projected the American Indian population for the next century using as a base popula­ tion the number of Indians in 1980 living in 32 states with federal reservations according to various degrees of native ancestry (so-called blood quantum). Table 9.2 shows these projections.

As we can see from Table 9.2, the total in­ crease in the Indian population during the next century is expected to be twelvefold,

Representations of Race and the Politics of Identity 113

Table 9.1 American Indian Population—1890-1990

Year Number % Change

1890 248,253 1900 237,196 -5

1910 276,927 17

1920 244,437 -13

1930 343,352 40

1940 345,252 1 1950 357,499 4 1960 523,591 46 1970 792,730 51 1980 1,364,033 72 1990 1,873,536 38 Sources: 1890-1970: Russell Thornton, American Indian Holocaust and Survival (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987), p. 160; figures for 1980 and 1990 are from U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Bureau of the Census Releases 1990 Census Counts on Specific Racial Croups (Census Bureau Press Release CB91 -215, Wednesday, June 12, 1991), Table 1.

growing from 1.3 million in 1980 to 15.8 mil­ lion in 2080. What is especially interesting about these projections is the changing inter­ nal composition of Native America. Snipp (1989) reported on the projections made by the OTA using Bureau of Indian Affairs blood quantum data and taking “into account the prevalence of racial intermarriage among In­ dians based on data from the 1980 census” (p. 166).

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