Skip to main content

Project to provide first-time, full analysis of US Census data on Tribal Nations in Ariz.

March 12, 2013

Many citizens of Tribal Nations in Arizona live in remote locations that are not easy to access. Counting people who live in the 22 Tribal Nations that cover almost 30 percent of the land in Arizona is a challenge, and there is a concurrent lack of analysis that interprets the data.

“Tribal-level census data is not analyzed by any entity in the United States," said Pat Mariella, director of the American Indian Policy Institute at ASU. "In addition, there is no center in any agency specifically devoted to information on the American Indian population in Arizona. Tribes are often forced to contact a range of agencies to gather information on their own populations that is important to planning for the future.”

The Tribal Indicators Project at Arizona State University will gather, prepare and analyze American Indian census data in a partnership between tribes, the American Indian Policy Institute, American Indian Studies and the Center for Population Dynamics at the university. Researchers will analyze data from the U.S. Census and the relatively new American Community Survey that replaced the census’ long form that included socio-economic characteristics of the U.S. population.

ASU is the only academic institution conducting or providing analysis of tribal scale data from U.S. Census and American Community Survey data, according to ASU social scientists.

One of the best uses for the data is in planning to meet the goals of a vibrant American Indian population. Researchers at the university will begin by examining population and socio-economic information and analyze the accuracy as well as trends in coordination with tribes.   

“Tribal governments need this type of data to plan for the future. Looking at trends and data really gives us a good idea of what is going to come about," said Carol Lujan, American Indian Studies associate professor with ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "The U.S. Census shows that the American Indian population is fast growing and a young population. Data from tribes can help show needs for things like schools. That kind of information is very useful.”

Analyzing trends over time will provide an accurate picture of how Indian country is changing and evolving. Although American Indians make up approximately 5 percent of the state’s population, American Indians living in reservation communities are still the poorest people in Arizona as well as in the United States, according to American Community Survey data. At the same time, many tribal nations are important contributors to the state’s economy through business ventures including gaming, tourism, agriculture, energy and hospitality.

“We really want to get a good picture of the American Indian population," Lujan said. "This has been lacking for researchers. There are pockets of data from agencies, but it’s difficult to find that information in one place. Tribes usually do not have the resources to extract Census data and analyze or compare it with national or regional trends. Unlike counterparts in local and state government, tribal leaders are often forced to operate in a data vacuum.”

Counting the American Indian population can be challenging for a population that frequently travels.

“We’re pretty mobile. We go back and forth from the reservations to the cities to work and get an education. In addition, very remote areas add to the issue of undercounting,” Lujan said.

Graduate students will work as demographers and assist with the Tribal Indicators Project. Eventually, plans call for the project to expand on a national basis and include an interactive website.

“It’s interesting to look at population trends,” Lujan said. “The Census Bureau is working to improve their counts for American Indian nations, but there are always people that are missed. The populations that are missed are usually ethnic groups, including American Indians.”