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American Indian/Alaska Native Heritage

November Is American Indian/Alaska Native Heritage Month

American Indians and Alaska Natives have profoundly shaped our country's character and our cultural heritage. Today, Native Americans are leaders in every aspect of our society -- from the classroom, to the boardroom, to the battlefield. This month, we celebrate and honor the many ways American Indians and Alaska Natives have enriched our Nation, and we renew our commitment to respecting each tribe's identity while ensuring equal opportunity to pursue the American dream.

For more information, see the White House, Presidential Proclamation National Native American Heritage Month, 2012.


Photo: Young boy in cowboy hatBoth the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the 2010 Census define "American Indian/Alaska Native" as 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.

This category includes people who indicate their race(s) as "American Indian or Alaska Native” or report an enrolled or principal tribe, such as Navajo, Blackfeet, Inupiat, Yup'ik, or Central American Indian groups or South American Indian groups.

For more information, see the U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 Census Briefs, Overview of Race & Hispanic Origin: 2010. [PDF - 5.26MB]


According to U.S. Census Bureau in 2011 there were roughly 5.1 million American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) whose usual place of residence was in the United States, representing approximately 1.6% of the U.S. total population.

Photo: Mother holding infantThe median age of the American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) population was 31.3 years, which was younger than the overall median age of 37.3 for the U.S. population.

The projected U.S. AI/AN population on July 1, 2050, is estimated to reach 8.6 million, constituting approximately 2% of the U.S. population on that date.

In 2011, the proportion of Alaska's population identified as AI/AN was 19.7%, the highest rate for AI/AN of any state. Alaska was followed by Oklahoma (13.3%), South Dakota (10.4%), and New Mexico (10.4%).

States with the largest AI/AN populations were California (689,320), Oklahoma (502,934), and Arizona (346,380).

For more information, see the U.S. Census Bureau, Facts for Features, American Indian & Alaska Native Heritage Month, November 2012.

Examples of Important Health Disparities

CDC Health Disparities & Inequalities Report

Logo: CDC Health Disparities and Inequalities Report The CDC Health Disparities & Inequalities Report–United States, 2011 (CHDIR), provides analysis and reporting of trends in health disparities and inequalities in selected social and health indicators—important steps in encouraging actions and facilitating accountability to reduce modifiable disparities through applying interventions that are effective and scalable.

Examples of important health disparities noted in the CHDIR:

  • In 2006, American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) mothers had the second largest infant death rate compared with other mothers. The AI/AN infant death rate was second to the rate among African American mothers and 48% greater than the rate among white mothers.
  • Photo: Senior man wearing capIn 2007, AI/AN populations had the largest death rate due to motor vehicle injuries, a suicide rate among one of the largest , and the second largest death rate due to drugs (includes illicit, prescription, and over-the-counter), compared with other racial/ethnic populations.
  • In 2009, AI/AN adults were among those with the largest prevalences of binge drinking, one of the largest number of binge drinking episodes per individual, and the largest number of drinks consumed during binge drinking, compared with other racial/ethnic populations.
  • In 2008, the AI/AN birth rate among females 10-19 years of age was the third largest (following African Americans and Hispanics).
  • In 2009, both AI/AN youth aged 12-17 years and AI/AN adults aged 18 years or older had the largest prevalences of current smoking compared with other racial/ethnic populations.
  • In 2008, the percentage of AI/AN adults aged 50 years and older who received colorectal screening was 8% less than the percentage screened among white adults.
  • In 2009, AI/AN adults aged 18 years and older who did not complete high school showed the second largest prevalence—second to Hispanics and similar to African Americans. The prevalence among AI/AN adults was 127% larger than the prevalence among white adults.
  • In 2009, the percentage of AI/AN adults living in poverty was among the largest compared with other racial/ethnic populations (and was similar to African American and Hispanic percentages). Twelve percent more AI/AN adults lived below the federal poverty level, as compared to white adults.
  • In 2009, AI/AN adults who owned or rented housing more often lived in inadequate and unhealthy housing compared with white adult householders. The percentage of AI/ANs living in poor housing was among the largest and was similar to percentages among African American and Hispanic householders.

See the CHDIR Website for more.

For more information, see:
Mortality Rates by Race/Ethnicity [PDF - 9.64MB], Health, U.S., 2012, Table 20

Healthy People

Programs and Accomplishments

Photo: Young Native womanCDC's Office for State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support (OSTLTS), Tribal Support Unit, serves as the primary link between CDC/ATSDR and Tribal governments.

CDC/ATSDR policy requires that all agency programs consult with tribal governments when they develop programs and activities that will affect Native populations. CDC is committed to continuing to work with federally recognized tribal governments on a government-to-government basis, and strongly supports and respects tribal sovereignty and self-determination for tribal governments in the United States.

The CDC/ATSDR Tribal Consultation Policy establishes agency policy and guidance for consultation between CDC/ATSDR and elected Tribal leaders.

The CDC/ATSDR Tribal Advisory Committee (TAC) meets to exchange information about public health issues in Indian Country, identify urgent public health needs in AI/AN communities, and discuss collaborative approaches to addressing these issues and needs.

Mortality and Morbidity

Cancer and Heart Disease are the Leading Causes of Death for American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN).

In addition, a variety of health disparities affect AI/AN communities, including, disproportionately high prevalences of Diabetes, Obesity, Suicide, Teenage Pregnancy, Infant Death, Unintentional and Motor Vehicle Injuries, and Chronic Liver Disease and Cirrhosis.

More Information

Photo: Young Native manCDC

Logo: Department of Health and Human ServicesUS Department of Health & Human Services (HHS)
Office of Minority Health (OMH)

Other Federal Government

Other Resources

  • Page last reviewed: November 4, 2013
  • Page last updated: November 4, 2013
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