Native Population

The term Alaska Native, referring to Alaska's original inhabitants, includes Aleut, Eskimo and Indian groups who differ from each other in ethnic origin, language and culture. These original settlers dispersed across the Alaska land mass and occupied geographically and climatically distinct regions.

Information collected on Alaska Native groups by the federal census is only partially useful since all identification of race and tribe is self identification. There is substantial non-reporting of tribal information, and intermarriage among persons of different Native and tribal backgrounds and between Natives and non-Natives is common. Until the 2000 census collected data separately on Eskimos Aleuts, and American Indians, but did not distinguish between Yup'ik and Inupiat Eskimos, or among the many different linguistic groups of Alaskan Athabaskans. According to the ISER Status of Alaska Natives, 2004, there are a number of other challenges to answering questions about Alaska Native Population:

"The 2000 census was the first time people had the choice of describing themselves as Alaska Native and some other race. So if "Alaska Native" is defined to include people who said they were Alaska Native and some other race-and we think that's the right definition to use-then the figures from the 2000 census are not directly comparable with those from previous censuses. Essentially, more people would be counted as Alaska Natives under the new definition than would have been under the old definition."

AND

"Also in the 2000 census, people who described themselves as Alaska Native or American Indian could specify a tribe to which they belonged. Some Alaska Natives designated tribes and others didn't; some designated more than one tribe. Those and other complications make it impossible to use the tribal data to add up to a precise count of Alaska Natives.

And finally, people who didn't describe their race as either Alaska Native or American Indian could still report having some Native American ancestry. About 14,500 people in Alaska said they had some Native American ancestry but that their race wasn't Native American. We did not include these people in our analysis."

With those cautions, the 2000 Census offered some figures for Alaska Native population and their tribal backgrounds. All numbers provided are for people who reported belonging to a single tribe. In 2000, 107,682 people reported being of Alaska Native decent. Of these people, 3,999 designated themselves as Aleut, 12,337 as Athabascan, 15,221 as Inupiat, 9,343 as Tlingit/Haida, 1,362 as Tsimshian, and 20,968 as Yupik.

A key element in the preservation of Native cultures centers around the preservation of Native Languages: Yupik - 16,630, Inupik - 6,150, Eskimo - 2,080, Athapascan - 1,210, Tlingit - 1,055, Aleut - 900, Haida - 115, Tsimshian - 115. Additional information about Alaska Native Languages can be found at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Alaska Native Language Center languages. According to census figures, these are the most common self-reported Alaska Native.

YEAR.............NATIVES AS PERCENT OF TOTAL POPULATION

  • 1930.............50.6
  • 1940.............44.8
  • 1950.............26.3
  • 1960.............19.0
  • 1970.............16.9
  • 1980.............16.0
  • 1990.............15.6
  • 2000*.............15.6
  • 2004*.............12.9
  • 2010*.............15.6
  • 2012*………….14.8%

*Beginning in 2000, the Census Bureau allowed people to designate one or more races, making direct comparisons with earlier data difficult.

Sources:

  • 2004 American Community Survey Data Profile Highlights for Alaska via American Factfinder
  • Census 2000 Demographic Profile Highlights for Alaska via American Factfinder
  • Native Population -- Chapter 2 of Status of Alaska Natives 2004 from the Institute of Social and Economic Research Language Spoken at Home for Counties and Tracts in Alaska: 2000
  • U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 Special Tabulation 224
  • DP-1. Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 2000 Data Set: Census 2000 American Indian and Alaska Native Summary File (AIANSF) - Sample Data
  • The Makeup of Alaska's Population. Alaska Economic Trends, June 2011, p. 10.