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American Indian and Alaskan Native Populations

2008 Native American Indian Heritage Month Program

View the Recording

View a video of the 2008 Native American Month Celebration. The progam includes a screening of the "Bad Sugar" episode of the PBS series Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick? followed by a panel discussion about how to address the impact of the social determinants of health and health equity of Native American Indians in Virginia.



American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/ANs) are people having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America), and who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, those who identify only as AI/AN constitute 0.9 percent of the United States population, or approximately 2.5 million individuals. The Census Bureau projects modest growth by AI/AN communities in the next few decades, topping 5 million individuals by the year 2065 and comprising 1.1 percent of the population. The greatest concentrations of AI/AN populations are in the West, Southwest and Midwest, especially in Alaska, Arizona, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

hoops loThere are 569 federally recognized AI/AN tribes, plus an unknown number of tribes that are not federally recognized. Each tribe has its own culture, beliefs and practices. AI/ANs have a unique relationship with the federal government due to historic conflict and subsequent treaties. Tribes exist as sovereign entities, but federally recognized tribes are entitled to health and educational services provided by the federal government. Though the Indian Health Service (IHS) is charged with serving the health needs of these populations, more than half of the AI/AN population does not permanently reside on a reservation, and therefore have limited or no access to IHS services. Geographic isolation, economic factors, and suspicion toward traditional spiritual beliefs are some of the reasons why health among AI/ANs is poorer than other groups. Other factors that contribute to poorer health outcomes for AI/ANs include cultural barriers, geographic isolation, inadequate sewage disposal and economic factors.

(Eight Native American tribes are recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia. These include the Chickahominy, the Eastern Chickahominy, the Mattaponi, the Upper Mattaponi, the Monacan, the Nansemond, the Pamunkey and the Rappahannock. These tribes are not recognized by the U.S. Government but are seeking a change in status.)

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office of Minority Health

For more details about American Indian and Alaska Native populations:

U.S. Census 2000 Brief: The American Indian and Alaska Native Population

U.S. Census Bureau American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) Data and Links

U.S. Census Bureau American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes for the United States, Regions, Divisions, and States

Ten Leading Causes of Death in the U.S. in 2002 for American Indians and Alaska Natives:

1. Heart disease
2. Cancer
3. Unintentional injuries
4. Diabetes
5. Stroke
6. Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis
7. Chronic lower respiratory disease
8. Suicide
9. Influenza and pneumonia
10. Homicide

Source: Health, U.S., 2004, Table 31.

In addition, American Indians and Alaska Natives have disproportionately high prevalence of the following conditions and risk factors:

  • Mental health
  • Obesity
  • Substance abuse
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Last Updated: 04-01-2013

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