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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 American Indian descent in the United States.* The U.S. Census in 2018 estimated the Los Angeles County population of persons identifying as fully or partly American Indian or Alaskan Native to be 165,513. The same population in Maricopa County, Arizona, was estimated at 126,170, placing that county nationally in second place.

The largest tribal affiliation of Los Angeles County persons, was “Mexican American Indian,” estimated at 20,577. Many Hispanic or Latino persons are fully or partly descended from indigenous peoples of the Americas, which connect their racial origins to 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 their list of tribal affiliations as part of 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 3,051, followed closely behind by Apache and Navajo.

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 either 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.