Census hasn’t always counted Native Americans. Now it tries.

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Census hasn’t always counted Native Americans. Now it tries.

Modern tools aren’t always enough to reach rural reservations
An enumerator, right, conducts the 1990 census in New Mexico on horseback. Census workers are concerned time is running out to get a complete count of Native Americans living on remote reservations such as the Navajo Nation.

Census hasn’t always counted Native Americans. Now it tries.

An enumerator, right, conducts the 1990 census in New Mexico on horseback. Census workers are concerned time is running out to get a complete count of Native Americans living on remote reservations such as the Navajo Nation.
Native Americans and the census

1789: Article 1, Section II of the Constitution states “Indians not taxed” are excluded from population counts, which was meant to specifically exclude Native Americans living in their own communities (as opposed to those of mixed descent living in white communities) or, later, on reservations.

1850: Rough estimates of the Native American population were published in the census for the first time, though these numbers were based on those prepared by the newly created Indian Department for the Secretary of War.

1860: Native Americans who were considered “assimilated” were counted in the census, and were noted as “civilized Indians” in census documents.

1890: The first time Native Americans were counted throughout the country and those results were published in official census totals, though relatively few resources were devoted to the endeavor. A single agent was sent to enumerate the entire Navajo reservation.

1930: The census includes an additional form in its questionnaire for Native American populations.

1940: The first time Native American populations were included in the total census population count. Enumerators themselves chose the race of census respondents.

1970: The census includes a question about tribal affiliation for the first time.

1980: The census counts Inuits and Aleuts for the first time as distinct ethnic groups.

2000: The census combines the Native American/Alaska Native ethnic group in its questionnaire, which remains the case today.

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