Thanksgiving is considered a time of rest, reflection, and family gathering for the majority of Americans. The feast symbolizes the cooperation of European colonists and the continent’s Native residents, who have since endured centuries of oppression and forced assimilation. Today, Native American culture is concentrated in the nation’s many Indian reservations, and in the heritage of millions of Americans.
Today, there are roughly 5.6 million people who identify as Native American living in the United States, according to Census data. Scholars estimate that up to 10 million Native Americans inhabited what is now the United States at the time Christopher Columbus first stepped foot onto the Americas in 1492. That number rapidly plummeted over the course of European colonization, largely due to war and the spread of disease. The recorded population at the turn of the 20th century was about 250,000.
Accurately counting native populations in the United States has always been particularly difficult, said David Beck, professor in the department of Native American Studies at the University of Montana.
“When Census counts were made, American Indians wouldn’t participate in the Census because our federal policy, oftentimes, was very discriminatory against them and so people didn’t want to be identified,” said Beck.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 5-year American Community Survey to identify the states with the the largest share of the population who self-identify as Native American or report having Native American heritage.
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