Why Did Self-Identifying Native Americans Increase 85% From 2010 To 2020? It Couldn't Be Flight From White, Now Could It?
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From the Washington Post’s non-opinion pages:

The Native American population exploded, the census shows. Here’s why.

Analysis by Andrew Van Dam
Staff writer

October 27, 2023 at 6:00 a.m. EDT

… Why did the Native American population skyrocket by 85 percent over the past decade?

The number of Americans claiming Indigenous heritage jumped from 5.2 million in 2010 to 9.6 million in 2020, a stark increase that probably was not the result of good old-fashioned procreation….

We noticed that Indigenous groups across the board were much more likely to be multiracial than other groups.

Because they and white people have been here since the time of Pocohontas, a famous ancestress of Southerners? Because whites were less racist against American Indians than against blacks, as shown by electing a notably Amerindian vice president in 1928, Charles Curtis?

No! Because of white racism!

We called Brookings Institution researcher Robert Maxim, a citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe who studies Native American data issues. This, he explained, was the legacy of centuries of forced assimilation.

From the 1870s until the 1960s, the federal government ran brutal boarding schools …

Yada yada…

It broke Native social ties and led to more marriages to outsiders.

Whites were so racist against Indians that they married them.

That heartbreaking history helps explain why Native Americans are more likely to have a mixed heritage. But it doesn’t explain the giant increase in numbers in recent years.


At this point, it’s worth noting that data about Native Americans is unusually hard to parse. Census relies on each person’s own assessment of tribal affiliation, rather than tribal enrollment, and counts many more tribes than have official federal recognition, resulting in a sometimes haphazard system that, as Maxim­­ says, “leads to all sorts of wacky results.”

But let’s not mention Senator Elizabeth Warren, because she’s a Democrat.

So, for the moment, let’s set aside the complicated question of mixed-origin Native Americans and take a look at the largest group of single-origin Native Americans in these United States: the Aztecs.

Nah, Mexican Indians were traditionally not considered American Indians. Canadian Indians maybe… The Blackfoot are a famously trans-Northern border tribe. But American Indians have historically not been welcoming to Mexican Indians. For example, consider the recent imbroglio over whether actress Sacheen Littlefeather, whom Marlon Brando sent to denounce his Godfather Oscar, was part-American Indian or part-Mexican Indian. Personally, I’m fairly sympathetic to Sacheen—who cares which side of the border her ancestors were from?—but a lot of people are worked up over this.

… In the 2020 Census, about 387,000 Americans claimed a full background as Aztec—nearly 20 times the number reported in 2010. This improbable increase is probably due in part to a quirk of data collection. The 2020 Census form listed Aztec and Maya prominently as suggested Native American origins.

Heckuva job, Census Bureau!

The second-biggest Native American origin in the United States is the Navajo Nation. But while it’s one of America’s top tribes by land area and enrollment, the Navajo population did not grow as rapidly in the 2020 Census as Native America writ large.

People who claim to be Navajo tend to be relatively Navajo. For example, here’s the 1995 Stanford golf team. You’ve probably heard of the guy on the left. Next to Tiger Woods is Navajo Notah Begay, who has probably turned out to be a more successful golf course designer than Tiger because environmental laws don’t fully apply to Amerindians. On the far right is Casey Martin, the genetically disabled plaintiff in one of the more interesting civil rights cases of the 1990s, in which Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus testified against him.

So we looked at the third-biggest group—and it’s a humdinger and a half. About 215,000 Americans claim to be exclusively “Cherokee.” And these generic “Cherokees” outnumber Census counts for all three federally recognized Cherokee tribes, none of which are included in the generic “Cherokee” total.

But the bit that really braised our brains is this: While the number of people claiming to be single-race Cherokee fell slightly in the 2010 Census, the number claiming to be at least part Cherokee skyrocketed from 770,000 to about 1.5 million. …

As we’ve discussed previously, Census changed how it measured race in 2020. Unlike in 2010, the form provided a free-response line for all races. If you marked White or Black you were prompted to write a specific origin, such as Russian, Alsatian or Haitian. The bureau counted up to six responses and matched them, by hand if necessary, with their official origin list.

Crucially, Census tabulated your race based on the origins you entered, not just the racial box you checked. If you marked only White on the form but wrote in “Scottish, Romanian, Italian and Cherokee,” you’d be marked as American Indian and Alaska Native as well as White. You’d also show up as part Cherokee.

In other words, the Census Bureau violated its own rule that it would determine race by self-identification. If you self-identified as white but also acknowledged some distant Cherokee ancestry in 2020 the Census would classify you as multiracial.

For example, Senator Elizabeth Warren is clearly somebody acknowledged by everybody else as white, but she also has a distant genealogical claim to being not quite white.

… Still, the Census Bureau didn’t create this population of surprise Native Americans. It just revealed it with a change in methodology. And it raises another big question: Why are there so many Cherokees, out of all the possible American Indian identities?

The unsatisfying answer would be that a surprising number of White and Black Americans suffer from what has been uncharitably called “Cherokee Grandmother Syndrome,” the century-old proto-meme that a dimly recalled ancestor contributed “Cherokee blood.”

But let’s not mention Senator Warren. While she’s the most famous example, she’s a Democrat.

A more thoughtful answer requires a deeper understanding of Cherokee history. As a dominant tribe in the American Southeast, the matrilineal Cherokee used marriage as a tool to bring outsiders into their kinship system, said Virginia Commonwealth University’s Gregory Smithers. That spun a wide web of genetic ties, and may have led Whites to view the tribe as more similar to them in culture and appearance. As one of the so-called Five Civilized Tribes, they also thrived economically. Their elites often owned enslaved Africans, which created a basis for Black Americans to have Cherokee heritage as well.

An illiterate Cherokee polymath named Sequoyah invented a written language for Cherokees in 1821. By 1828-1834, the Cherokee were publishing a weekly newspaper in both Cherokee and English.

The devastating relocations known as the Trail of Tears followed by a century-plus of disruptive federal policies spread them across the region. That history also led some White Southerners to embrace the Cherokee as fellow victims of federal overreach—though Smithers is quick to point out it was often those Southerners’ ancestors who led the calls for Cherokee removal in the first place.

In 1847, a Viennese botanist named Enderlich named the world’s most magnificent tree, the Sequoia, after Sequoyah.

Together, it all means that Cherokee origins were pervasive enough, and desirable enough, to be smoothly passed down in garbled family legends. In “Becoming Indian: The Struggle Over Cherokee Identity in the Twenty-first Century,” University of Texas anthropologist Circe Sturm finds people who reported Cherokee roots but actually came from a different Southeastern tribe—one without such high brand recognition that its name has been attached to a top selling, gas-hungry Jeep SUV.

The adoption of a tenuous Indigenous heritage may be a sign that Americans are shying away from a White identity that has become an uncomfortable mark of privilege.

Flight from White.

But there’s a more charitable interpretation, too.

“Most race shifters see themselves not as White people who ‘play Indian,’” Sturm wrote in The Conversation, “but as long-unrecognized American Indians who have been forced by historical circumstances to ‘play White.’”

[Comment at Unz.com]

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