Friday, September 12, 2008
5938: Recognizing Native Americans.
From USA TODAY…
For payout or pride, more claim Native American heritage
By Janell Ross and Clay Carey, USA TODAY
More Americans are identifying themselves as Native American, pushing the growth rate of that group higher than that of the USA.
Those identifying themselves as at least part American Indian grew from 4.1 million in 2000 to 4.5 million last year, according to U.S. Census data released in August — a 10% increase.
The total American population grew an estimated 7.7% over that period, the data show.
Demographers say the growth, too large to attribute to birth rates, comes after more than a century of Native Americans choosing to hide their ethnicity over fear of discrimination.
“There’s less of a stigma with Indians identifying themselves than there was in the past,” says Jacqueline Johnson Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C.
Kathleen Fitzgerald, a sociologist at Columbia College in Missouri, says “there is just more of a sense of freedom to define and describe who you are.”
Some claiming Native American heritage may be motivated by finances, says Bill Wells, an Indian Affairs commissioner in Tennessee. Tribes recognized by the federal government that operate casinos take in more than $20 billion a year, according to the National Indian Gaming Commission, and sometimes pay out significant dividends to their citizens, Wells says.
“I almost hate to say it, but I think there may be some people who see the casinos and the windfall profits and think there may be something for them in identifying,” Wells says.
Melba Checote-Eads of Tennessee, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, says she, her children and grandchildren claim their heritage.
“My daddy always would say ‘Why would any one want to be Indian?’” she says. “Today, a lot of people are doing research, they’re able to find out a lot more about their families. And I think it’s wonderful that some of them want to claim their heritage.”
Cindy Yahola, also of Tennessee and a member of the Muscogee Nation, says she thinks some believe “if they identify themselves as Indian, they are entitled to something” like government money or preference for scholarships.
Still, Yahola says she thinks “it can help us share the culture.”
Ross and Carey report for The Tennessean in Nashville