States with the biggest Native American populations
More than 5 million Native Americans live in the United States as members of 574 federally recognized and 63 state-recognized tribes. That number is projected to rise to 10 million people by 2060. A federally recognized tribe is a sovereign entity with a government-to-government relationship with the United States, as well as the rights of self-governance in such areas as tribal law and taxation.
About half of Native Americans live on reservations, of which there are about 326, comprising roughly 56.2 million acres. The 16 million-acre Navajo Nation Reservation in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah is the largest, and the 1.32-acre Pit River Tribe cemetery in California is the smallest.
Stacker ranked the states with the biggest Native American populations and looked at some of the characteristics and conditions for each community, analyzing data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey one-year estimate. The U.S. Census Bureau’s definition of “Native Americans” includes Alaskan Natives but excludes Native Hawaiians.
Compared with other U.S. races, American Indians have a life expectancy that is shorter by more than five years. The suicide rate among American Indian youth is 2.5 times higher than among youth in the rest of the country. American Indians are 2.5 times more likely to experience violent crimes than the national average, and more than four out of five American Indian women will experience violence in their lifetimes. Holistically, these issues can be seen as symptoms of several larger issues, including access to social services, educational opportunities, nutritional food, and health care. Property rights pose more significant problems, insomuch as residents who don't have deeds to the land they live on struggle to build credit, which throws a significant barrier in front of upward mobility. Meanwhile, tribal lands are tough sells for franchises and other commercial developers that would bring jobs to reservations, as these companies are often resistant to negotiating contract terms under tribal law.
One effort to mitigate the aforementioned statistics came with the 1968 establishment of the American Indian Movement (AIM) in Minnesota, which advocated for sovereignty and rights. The group famously occupied the Wounded Knee battle site at the Pine Ridge Reservation for more than two months in 1973.
Looking ahead, Rep. Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, has been tapped to head the U.S. Department of Interior for the upcoming Biden administration. She would be the first Indigenous cabinet secretary in the nation. Among her responsibilities will be the underfunded Bureau of Indian Education and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the latter of which oversees 55 million acres of tribal land.
Keep reading to find out which states have the biggest Native American populations.
You may also like: Best places to raise a family in the Midwest
#51. New Hampshire
- Native American population: 1,727
- Proportion of state's population: 0.1% (#51 highest among all states)
The American Indians in modern-day New Hampshire have links to two groups who lived in the region when European settlers arrived: the Abenaki and Western Pennacook. Both groups were nearly gone by the mid-1700s, having died or been enslaved, displaced, or married into nonnative families. They left well-known New Hampshire names like Merrimack, Nashua, and Winnipesaukee.
#50. District of Columbia
- Native American population: 1,886
- Proportion of state's population: 0.3% (#42 highest among all states)
The District of Columbia is located on lands that were once home to the Nacotchtank, or Anacostans, along the Anacostia River. Advocates have sought to raise the tribe’s historic profile with a campaign to mark the locales where members once lived and farmed. No descendants are believed to have survived.
[Pictured: Sculptures by artist Nora Naranjo-Morse at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC.]
- Native American population: 2,928
- Proportion of state's population: 0.5% (#28 highest among all states)
Most Indigenous people left Vermont in the 1600s, and many of their descendants live on reservations in Canada. American Indians in Vermont today are predominantly Abenaki, descendants of a semi-nomadic tribe that once spread across New England and southern Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Concerted efforts are being made to preserve their language, arts, recipes, and indigenous crops.
#48. Rhode Island
- Native American population: 3,341
- Proportion of state's population: 0.3% (#37 highest among all states)
Native Americans in Rhode Island today are Narragansett, descending from a tribe that has lived in the area for thousands of years. They were stripped of their tribal recognition (detribalized) by the state in the late 1800s but battled to reclaim their land in the 1970s and gained federal recognition in the 1980s. The Narragansett reservation, which was 15,000 acres at the end of the 18th century, now totals about 1,800 acres.
#47. West Virginia
- Native American population: 3,601
- Proportion of state's population: 0.2% (#49 highest among all states)
American Indians in West Virginia are descendants of the Shawnee and Cherokee tribes who were displaced to Oklahoma by the 1800s. Lake Shawnee Amusement Park, abandoned in 1966, was the site of a gruesome conflict in the late 1800s. Centuries later, that land is believed to be cursed and haunted after a half-dozen children perished on the park’s rides.
You may also like: Best small towns for retirees in every state
- Native American population: 4,353
- Proportion of state's population: 0.4% (#29 highest among all states)
The Delaware, or Lenape, tribe is based in Oklahoma, where members were forcibly removed from their ancestral home along the Delaware River. The name originated with Lord de la Warr, who was named governor of the English colony at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1610. The modern-day Lenapes living in Delaware have undertaken projects to map ancestral sites, cultivate specific plants, and study fishing-net traditions to protect and preserve Indigenous culture.
- Native American population: 6,129
- Proportion of state's population: 0.4% (#30 highest among all states)
Native Hawaiians, who make up more than a quarter of the state’s population, are distinct from Native Americans. Native Hawaiians are an aboriginal people descended from Polynesians who discovered the islands more than 1,000 years ago. Their monarchy was overthrown and their territory annexed, with backing from the U.S. government, at the end of the 1800s. That takeover was urged on by American sugar plantation owners there.
[Pictured: Native Hawaiians during the Prince Kuhio Celebration Commemorative Parade, March 26th, 2010 in Honolulu, Hawaii.]
- Native American population: 8,326
- Proportion of state's population: 0.2% (#50 highest among all states)
Kentucky was once home to an array of tribes including the Shawnee, Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Choctaw, and many Native Americans there today are descendants of those who intermarried or otherwise eluded forced displacement. In 1987, a group of men paid the property owner of the then-Slack Farm, situated on the site of a former American Indian burial site in Union County, $10,000 to allow them to dig up graves and take relics. The grave desecration attracted public and media attention and prompted Congress to pass legislation for the protection and repatriation of Indigenous remains and sacred objects.
- Native American population: 9,052
- Proportion of state's population: 0.3% (#45 highest among all states)
Connecticut has five recognized tribes—the Golden Hill Paugussett, Mashantucket Pequot, Mohegan, Paucatuc Eastern Pequot, and Schaghticoke—that hold six reservations. The Mohegan Tribe built the huge Mohegan Sun resort and entertainment complex, which boasts luxury hotels, two casinos, shopping, dining, meeting facilities, and venues for concerts and sporting events all within a two-hour drive from New York City.
[Pictured: Dancers in Native American dress from The 28th Annual Feast of Green Corn and Dance Powwow (or Schemitzun) at the Mashantucket Reservation in Connecticut on Aug. 24, 2019.]
- Native American population: 9,419
- Proportion of state's population: 0.7% (#21 highest among all states)
Maine’s four Indian tribes are the Micmac, Maliseet, Penobscot, and Passamaquoddy, which in June 2020 formed the collective Wabanaki Alliance to promote tribal sovereignty. The University of Maine waives tuition and fees as well as room and board for students who are members or have a parent or grandparent listed on a tribal census. Maine is the only state to have a complete ban, signed into law in 2019, on Native American mascots or names for sports teams.
You may also like: Best places to raise a family in the Southwest