Thousands of years before Leif Erikson and Christopher Columbus arrived in North America, a different group of people came to the continent. While there are different theories as to how people first came to North America, the crossing of the Bering Land Bridge that connected Asia and North America is the most widely accepted one.
Scholars estimate that by the time Europeans began to settle the continent, nearly 10 million people had already been living in the continental United States. That number fell sharply after colonization, because of wars and the spread of diseases.
As of 2018, there were approximately 5.8 million Native Americans (alone or in combination) in the United States, comprising about 1.7% of the total population, according to Census data. Today, the Native American population is concentrated in the nation’s 574 federally recognized Native American and Alaska Native tribes and villages across the country, but millions of Americans identify as having a Native American heritage.
24/7 Tempo reviewed the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 five-year American Community Survey to identify the states with the largest share of Native American population. This includes those who self-identify as Native American or report having Native American heritage, not necessarily people who live on a reservation or tribal area or are active members of a tribe or nation.
Currently, the state with the largest share of Native population is California, with Oklahoma, Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico rounding out the top five.
Native American tribes and nations in the country face a range of threats to their sovereignty from federal and state governments. Some of the biggest concerns are lack of federal funding for tribal programs, voter suppression, and not expanding tribal authority to administer justice, according to the National Congress of American Indians President Fawn Sharp in her annual State of Indian Nations address.
Today, American Indians have one of the highest poverty rates among major racial groups in the country. In 2018, one in four native Americans lived below the poverty line. The national poverty rate in 2018 was 14.1%. Additionally, the median household income of single-race American Indian and Alaska Native households in 2018 was $41,879, compared with $60,293 for the nation as a whole.
The vast majority of reservations and tribal areas are located in the Southern and Western parts of the country — these are the states with the most Indian reservations and tribal areas.