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About American Indian & Alaska Native Heritage Month

“Celebrating Native American Voices”

November is Native American Heritage Month and it’s an important time to celebrate the current and historic role the Native American voice has played in the United States. It’s a time to celebrate the modern and traditional cultures, people, and societies of Native American peoples. It’s also an opportunity to highlight the important contributions of Native peoples and the shared histories between tribal nations and other communities.

Learn more about Heritage Month.


This effort is organized by the DC Native Public Relations Roundtable. The website is hosted by the National Congress of American Indians.


Every Native Vote & Every Native Voice Counts

November 6, 2012 is national Election Day and the Native Vote campaign launched a national grassroots media campaign to spread the message that Every Native Vote Counts!

One of the most anticipated days this November is the national Election Day on November 6, 2012. As citizens of both the United States and their respective tribal communities, Native voters – American Indians and Alaska Natives – participate in voting and express their voice, and their vote, in tribal, national, state, and local elections.

National Election Day (Tuesday, Nov. 6) and Veterans Day (Sunday, Nov. 11 – this year the federal holiday will be observed on Monday, Nov. 12) are important days on their own, but also serve as especially important parts of Native American Heritage Month because each illustrates the important voice and place Native peoples have in North American culture, politics, and within the American family of governments.

Students from Salish Kootenai College, Pablo, Montana promote the Native Vote. The video is a recent piece by the Native entertainment group the 1491’s. In the description of the video the 1491s encourage Native people to “USE YOUR VOICE!” 

Tribal nations are America’s first governments and American Indians and Alaska Natives played a key role in inspiring and establishing American democracy. Yet as citizens of the United States, the rightful place of tribal citizens at the ballot box has all too often been denied. While still one of most under-registered group of voters in the United States, heightened political participation in Indian Country has proven recently that the Native Vote is an increasingly powerful group of voters. In recent years, the Native Vote has been publicly acknowledged as making a difference in national, state, and local elections.

That’s why Native Vote, a nonpartisan campaign initiated by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), encourages American Indian and Alaska Native people to exercise their right to vote and protect this right for all Native Americans. It is an important component of NCAI’s ongoing work to revitalize civic engagement in Native communities. Native voter participation has been a focus of NCAI’s work since the organization was established in 1944, at a time when Native people were citizens but many states still denied them the right to vote.

This year Native Vote has launched the “Every Native Vote Counts” campaign to mobilize the Native Vote. The campaign works with a network of grassroots organizers in tribal communities across the Nation to provide Native Voters with the tools, information, and motivation to make sure their voice count in this year’s election. The four main aspects of the campaign (Registration and Get Out the Vote, Election Protection, Education, and Data) all play an integral role in the campaign’s goal to turn out the largest Native Vote ever. Despite decades of voter disenfranchisement, and existing challenges such as voter ID laws, Native Voters will turn out in full force for the 2012 elections to illuminate and strengthen the voice of Indian Country. 


History of the Native American Vote

It was not until 1965 that major restrictions facing American Indians and Alaska Natives voters were struck down in every state with the passage of the Voting Rights Act, ensuring Native people could participate as voters in state and national elections. The Indian Citizenship Act (1924) extended citizenship rights to a significant number of American Indians and Alaska Natives who had not already become US citizens by other means (e.g. through military service or denouncing tribal status and affiliations), however not all states removed limits on American Indian voters.

From its inception in 1944, NCAI played an important role in advancing the rights of Native people at the ballot box, passing two resolutions at its first convention calling for voting rights for American Indians in Arizona and New Mexico. In the 1948 Trujillo v. Garley case the United States District Court of New Mexico struck down limitations in the New Mexico Constitution that prevented American Indians living on the reservation from voting. This case compelled New Mexico, one of the last hold-out states, to remove voting restrictions affecting American Indians living on reservations.

Native people in Maine did not receive the right to vote in national elections until 1954 or in state elections until 1967. Native people in Colorado faced literacy test requirements and were some of the last to be enfranchised in 1965 with the Voting Rights Act, which prohibited these sorts of voter eligibility requirements.


Native Youth Count

from the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and NCAI's Policy Research Center


In the lead up to the 2010 Census, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and many tribal partners conducted a significant outreach campaign, called “Indian Country Counts,” to increase Native political participation and government investment in American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) peoples. In analyzing the latest 2010 Census data, one thing is very clear about Indian Country: Native young people do count, and will count in the future.  

American Indians & Alaska Natives in the Total Population

Figure 1


The Census collects data on the size of the American Indian and Alaska Native population “alone” and “in combination” with other races. In 2010, the Census counted 2,932,248 AI/AN alone people, and 2,288,331 AI/AN in combination, for a total of 5,220,579 AI/AN alone or in combination persons and an overall increase of 27 percent from the 2000 Census. 

American Indians & Alaska Native Youth in the US Population

The AI/AN population from birth through age 24 makes up 42 percent of the total AI/AN population; whereas the under 25 population for the US is only 34 percent of the total population.  Of the total 2010 AI/AN population, the Census reports that there are 888,372 American Indians and Alaska Natives under 18 who identified as American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) alone. That number rose to 1,651,224 for Natives who identified in combination with other races. This means that about 32 percent of Natives are under the age of 18, compared to only 24 percent of the total population who are under the age of 18.  The median age for American Indians and Alaska Natives on reservations is 26, compared to 37 for the entire nation. Figure 2 below displays a population pyramid comparing the AI/AN population’s age distribution (on the left in red) to the total US distribution (on the right in blue).

Table 1


Figure 2

There is a large bubble in the 15-19 age group for the AI/AN population, so even more Native young people will be able to vote in the next few years and will likely be headed to college or other advanced education and training pathways.  

So what was happening between 1991 and 1995 when this large group of American Indian and Alaska Native youth were born? A Harvard study[1] of 1990 and 2000 US Census data, that analyzed Indians living on reservations, showed that rapid economic development was taking root among non-gaming and gaming tribes alike. In the same decade, AI/AN family poverty rates dropped by seven percentage points or more in non-gaming areas, and by about 10 percentage points in gaming areas; and inflation-adjusted per capita income grew 2.5 times faster for Indians on reservations than for the US population at large.

American Indian & Alaska Native Youth in the State Populations 

Some states have larger American Indian & Alaska Native youth populations than others. One of the most striking is South Dakota, which has a very young Native population. Of the 71,817 American Indians in South Dakota, nearly 40 percent are under 18 years old (see Figure 3).

 Figure 3

State-level data displays of this sort can provide a sense of where the critical mass of Native youth are across the US and can encourage state leaders in certain states to understand how American Indian and Alaska Native youth demographics are important in their region.

Educational Attainment

According to the American Community Survey 2005-2009 estimates, 44 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives over 25 had attended at least some college. Twenty-four percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives had not finished high school or alternative and 12.8 percent had completed a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 27.5 percent of the US population. 


The experiences of young people who live on reservation, trust land, in Oklahoma statistical areas, or in Alaska Native villages also have diverse experiences with education and attainment. When the AI/AN population is broken out by geographic component (see Figures 4 and 5), Native people in Alaska Native village statistical areas had the smallest percentage of people with a bachelor’s degree or higher, with four percent. However, much progress has been made. In Alaska, for example, the number of Natives who received four-year college degrees more than tripled between 1980 and 2000. 

The children of Indian Country are making their way through schools, colleges, training programs, and  the workforce, all while carrying their cultural traditions. Although disparities in achievement still exist, there is a much to celebrate, such as the growing cadre of second-generation Native college graduates, whose parents had received their own degrees. As we celebrate Native Heritage Month, we also look forward to the unique perspectives and contributions that our young people will share with the rest of the nation now and throughout their lives.

[1] Taylor and Kalt, American Indians on Reservations: A Databook of Socioeconomic Change Between The 1990 and 2000 Censuses, HPAIED, January 2005.