Detailed Findings & Methodology
Today, Beck said that more than 70% of Native Americans live in urban areas. There is a heavy concentration of Native Americans living in Oklahoma now, primarily those who identify as Cherokee, in comparison with most other contiguous states. A lot of people who identify as Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole still live there today, as it was the endpoint of the Trail of Tears.
Members of those five groups were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands after the Indian Removal Act took place in 1830, which required all American Indians to move west of the Mississippi River either by foot or boat. The dreaded walk took the lives of 4,000 Cherokee members.
According to the Census, of the 5.6 million people who self-identify as having at least some Native American heritage, about 1.1 million people claim their ancestry is Cherokee. Next, over 374,000 people identify as Navajo.
One can self-identify as having a specific Native American heritage without being an active member of that tribe or nation. As Beck pointed out, there are even some people who know they have Native American roots but are not exactly sure from which tribe or nation.
“There is a much larger awareness of Cherokee people than there is of others,” said Beck. Small communities of Native Americans living in the West, primarily in Oklahoma and parts of Arkansas, may only have knowledge of their roots through oral histories passed down from generation to generation, Beck explained.
“Oftentimes, it’s nothing more than stories. So there’s actually a lot of people who identify as Cherokee who may or may not have had a Cherokee ancestor, but who claim that,” said Beck.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed population data across the country using 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 without being an active member of that tribe or nation. The data is based on a survey that asked people to report their ancestry, not whether they are actively participating in that group. Someone who identifies as American Indian or Alaska Native is someone who has origins in any of the indigenous people of the Americas and who currently maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment.