Population Research and Policy Review 16: 33–42, 1997.
1997 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Tribal membership requirements and the demography
of ‘old’ and ‘new’ Native Americans
Department of Anthropology, UCLA, Los Angeles, California, USA
Abstract. This paper examines the twentieth-century population recovery of Native Amer-
icans with reference to urbanization, intermarriage, and differing deﬁnitions of the Native
American population from census and tribal enrollment data. The recent increase in the Native
American population reﬂected in regular US decennial censuses since 1960 is discussed in
terms of changing self-identiﬁcation of individuals as ‘Native American’. Also discussed are
criteria for enrollment in Native American tribes, particularly blood quantum requirements.
Census enumerations are compared with tribal enrollment data, and it is illustrated that a large
proportion of those identifying as ‘Native American’ in the census are not enrolled in Native
American tribes. Special attention is given to how Native American tribal enrollment criteria
might impact future population size.
Key words: Census, Demography, Native Americans, Tribes, Urbanization
After some 400 years of population decline beginning soon after the arrival of
Columbus in the Western Hemisphere, the Native American population north
of Mexico began to increase around the turn of the twentieth century. The
US Census decennial enumerations indicate a Native American population
growth for the USA that has been nearly continuous since 1900 (except for
an inﬂuenza epidemic in 1918 that caused serious losses), to 1.42 million
by 1980 and to over 1.9 million by 1990.
To this may be added some
740,000 Native Americans in Canada in 1986 (575,000 American Indians,
35,000 Eskimo [Inuit], and 130,000 Metis), plus some additional increase
to today and perhaps 30,000 Native Americans in Greenland. The total then
becomes around 2.75 million in North America north of Mexico – obviously
a signiﬁcant increase from the perhaps fewer than 400,000 around the turn
of the century, some 250,000 of which were in the USA. However, this 2.75
million remains far less than the estimated over 7 million circa 1492 (see
Thornton 1987a). It is also but a fraction of the total current populations of
the USA (250 million in 1990) and Canada (over 25 million in 1990) (see
Thornton 1994a, 1994b).