Oklahoma tribal numbers jump, census shows
BY CURTIS KILLMAN World Staff Writer
Sunday, September 25, 2011
9/25/11 at 7:01 AM
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Drawn by the lure of increased services and pride in the culture, the number of people claiming tribal connections increased 23 percent across Oklahoma in the past decade.
The number of residents claiming American Indian or Alaskan native heritage in the state grew from 391,949 people in 2000 to 482,760 people in 2010, according to recently released Census Bureau data.
That compares with a 9 percent increase in the overall state population from 2000 to 2010.
Population increases among individual tribes in Oklahoma ranged from 13 percent among Seminoles to 36 percent among Chickasaws, according to the Census Bureau.
Census Bureau data show that the number of people identifying themselves as Cherokee or Creek increased 18.5 percent and 28 percent, respectively.
But the Census Bureau figures are just half the story of the increase in tribal populations.
Actual tribal enrollment has grown similarly and in many cases has outpaced the census figures, which are based on how people identify themselves.
The Cherokee Nation has seen a 32 percent increase in enrollment in the past decade, tribe officials said.
"I believe at this point we are recognized as the largest federally recognized Indian tribe. We have outgrown the Navajo Nation," said Todd Enlow, group leader of Leadership division in the Cherokee Nation.
"I think we've actually outgrown them in size in the last 12 months," Enlow said.
The growth in Cherokee Nation members has resulted in the tribe surpassing the Census Bureau count of 185,850 Cherokees in the state.
Two of every three Cherokee Nation members live in Oklahoma, Enlow said.
"Historically the self-identification of Cherokees has been higher than our citizenship, sometimes quite a bit higher," Enlow said.
The Cherokee Nation had a big push to boost return rates on 2010 census forms, Enlow said.
"In 2010 we worked very hard to target those communities that had poor response rates to try to educate our citizens," Enlow said.
Accurate census data help the nation in its internal planning, Enlow said.
"We've got our citizenship data that lets us know where our citizens reside, but sometimes we don't have the additional demographic data that the Census Bureau collects on those citizens."
In Tulsa County, an estimated 29,792 people identified themselves as Cherokee either alone or in combination with other groups.
Creeks ranked No. 2 in population in Tulsa County, with 9,790 residents.
A spokesperson for the Creek Nation could not be reached for comment.
The Choctaw Nation ranks No. 3 in Tulsa County, with 5,265 residents claiming that tribal heritage.
Based in southern Oklahoma, the Choctaw Nation saw a 21 percent increase in census population from 2000 to 2010.
The number of residents claiming Choctaw affiliation grew from 65,145 people in 2000 to 79,006 people in 2010.
The Choctaw Nation had a volunteer staff member who worked with the Census Bureau to boost the number of tribal members who claimed Choctaw tribal affiliation on the census form, tribe spokeswoman Judy Allen said.
Meanwhile, Choctaw tribal membership has grown 68 percent in the past decade, from 123,000 members worldwide in 2000 to 207,000 members worldwide today, Allen said.
"I think a lot of that is pride in being a tribal member," Allen said.
Allen could not provide a figure for the number of tribal members who live in Oklahoma.
The increase in tribal enrollment numbers has resulted in increased needs for tribal services, Allen said.
"One of our child development centers that we have constructed, if we had funding to staff it, we could actually fill that classroom," Allen said.
"We don't have the money to staff and administer it at this point."
Among other tribes, the Census Bureau reported the number of Oklahomans claiming Osage heritage grew 19 percent, from 6,384 residents in 2000 to 7,586 residents in 2010.
As with other tribes, the Osage Nation has experienced similar growth in tribal membership.
J.R. Ricketts, director of the Osage Nation membership office, said the nation has added 200 members a month since October 2009, when the tribe began offering its members a health benefit debit card.
The nation has about 14,200 members today, Ricketts said.
The population group identifying themselves as Chickasaw experienced the largest increase in population, 36 percent, according to Census Bureau statistics.
Tribal population growth in Oklahoma
|American Indian tribal populations ||2010 ||% change from 2000 |
|Cherokee ||185,850 ||18.5%|
|Choctaw ||79,006 ||21.2%|
|Creek ||44,170 ||27.9%|
|Chickasaw ||27,538 ||36.3%|
|Seminole ||11,493 ||12.6%|
|Comanche ||8,741 ||32%|
|Potawatomi ||8,078 ||36.1%|
|Kiowa ||7,711 ||0.9%|
|Osage ||7,586 ||18.8%|
|Apache ||3,576 ||9.1%|
Source: U.S. Census Bureau (does not reflect actual tribal enrollment)
Original Print Headline: Tribes' numbers jump
Curtis Killman 918-581-8471
Baylee Birdtail sits in front of a poster written in the Cherokee language at the Cherokee Nation's immersion school in Tahlequah on Thursday. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
Ruby Jackson helps Caden Murphy (left) and Baylee Birdtail (right) with an assignment at the Cherokee Nation's Immersion School in Tahlequah on Thursday. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World