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Largest Population of American Indians in the U.S.

Mexican American Indian Performers

Mexican American Indian performers. Photo by dlewisnash, courtesy of Pixabay.com.

Los Angeles County is home to the largest concentration of persons of any part American Indian descent in the United States.* The U.S. Census in 2020 estimated that the Los Angeles County population of persons identifying as fully or partly American Indian or Alaskan Native to be 156,646. The same population in Maricopa County, Arizona, was estimated at 109,724, placing that county in second place, nationally, behind Los Angeles County.

The largest tribal affiliation of Los Angeles County persons, was “Mexican American Indian,” estimated at 19,911. Many Hispanic or Latino persons are fully or partly descended from indigenous peoples of the Americas, connecting their racial origins to that of Native Americans.

In recent census counts, more Hispanic or Latino persons elected to identify their race as fully or partly American Indian. Recognizing this trend, the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2015, added “Mexican American Indian,” “South American Indian” and “Spanish American Indian” to the list of tribal affiliations, under the American Indian racial category. This has resulted in Mexican American Indians now identified as the sixth largest American Indian tribal population in the United States (and largest in Los Angeles County).

The second largest Census-identified American Indian tribal affiliation in Los Angeles County is Cherokee, estimated to number 2,922, followed by Apache (2,758) and Navajo (2,524).

Here we use the term American Indian, versus Native American, because the U.S. Census Bureau uses this to refer to most indigenous people of the Americas. According to a 1995 Census Bureau study, 50% of people identifying themselves as indigenous preferred the term American Indian, 37% preferred Native American, and the remainder preferred other terms or had no preference. The Census Bureau uses American Indian to include indigenous people of all the Americas (North and South America and the Carribbean) who are not Alaska Native or Hawaiian. In addition, the two indigenous people groups native to Los Angeles County, the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe (San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians) and Kizh Nation (Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians) both use the term Indian.

* Los Angeles County, however, has only the second largest population in the U.S. of persons claiming to be fully American Indian and Alaska Native (with no connection to any other racial group). That number is estimated to be 78,132 persons.