Indigenous Women: Nations, Cultures, Voices

The Blog offers information about Indigenous women spanning topics from current events in Indian Country to book reviews to discussion of Indigenous women’s cultural histories and ritual cycles relating to the Earth. Above all, there are the voices of Indigenous women as they present themselves.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Are There Any Real Native Americans Today?

b2ap3_thumbnail_Young-couple.jpgIn my line of work, you have to develop patience.

Whether I am at the dentist or a dinner party, as soon as someone learns that I am a teacher and writer of Native American Studies the questions start flowing. Most questions are asked out of sincere curiosity, and I am usually glad to educate these folks. However, sometimes people will flatly say with a huff, "I  thought all the Indians were dead" or "Indians can't read and write." As I said, over the years I have developed a lot of patience! Because of so much benign, and sometimes obviously racist, ignorance, I have dedicated myself to teaching about Indigenous cultures and histories as widely as possible--most people are respectful and genuinely want to learn more. But what we need is everybody to work on raising awareness about Native people today, not just educators like me.



One of the first questions I am usually asked is something like, "Are there any real Native Americans remaining today?" This question indicates how very little Americans are taught in school about Indigenous peoples and how deep the stereotypes of Native people remain embedded in American culture. American history tends to focus on the decimation of Native people, and hence Indians become "people from the past," like Molly Pitcher or Ben Franklin. Also, Americans are very fascinated by the way Native people lived before the European settlers arrived and love to see Indians in paint and feathers. Studying history is great, but we must recognize that Indigenous people today wear suits, jeans, and sneakers like most Americans, even though they still sometimes wear paint and feathers when they are in ceremonial clothing.

So here is a brief education about Native American population numbers from the United States' 2010 Census:

How many Native Americans are there in the United States today? 5.2 Million!

The cities with the largest number of Native American inhabitants are:

New York City=111, 749

Los Angeles=54, 236

Phoenix, Arizona=43, 724

Oklahoma City=36, 572

In MesoAmerica and South America there are over 40 million Indigenous people, and in Guatemala, 60 to 70% of the population are Indian (Indios), most of whom speak an Indigenous first language. Quechua is spoken by millions of Indigenous people in South America.


The largest Native American nation is the Cherokee Nation; second largest is the Navajo (Dine) nation. However, less than 40% of Native people live on a reservation. Believing that all Native Americans live on or near a community of Native-only people is as silly as believing that all Italian-Americans live in Little Italy or all Chinese-Americans live in Chinatown (Don't worry, I won't tell anyone you used to think that all Indians live on a reservation.).

There are over 500 federally-recognized Indigenous nations in the United States, but, very importantly, there are far more Native nations than just those 500! Because of colonization, unless the government says you're a Native American nation, you don't get legally recognized as a nation. There are over 250 Native languages still spoken, and there are many Language Restoration Programs in Native communities where Elders come to speak to Native kids so they learn their language. Awesome!

Some very sad statistics about Native Americans today is that poverty rates for Native families are TWICE the national average and suicide rates are by far the highest of any other group in the United States. Living in a country that sees you and your family as "artifacts from the past," as sports mascots, and thinks your culture is little more than grunting savages from Cowboy and Indian movies takes a very high toll on the mental health of Native people. The statistics prove how very damaging negative images can be on a human life.


I want to disspell some other widely-held myths about Native Americans:

1. Indians do not get payments from the government, or from casinos, or get free college educations for being Indian. You cannot "get money" because you are an Indian. There are financial aid programs through the Bureau of Indian Affairs to help with college, but being Indian will not get you money.

2. Indians are U.S. citizens; they were extended full citizenship in 1924. They may also be a citizen of their Indigenous nation, but they are still U.S. citizens with a U.S. passport (though they may also have a tribal passport as in the case of the Haudenosaunee nation in New York).

3. Indians pay taxes. They have to fill out the IRS form and file it by April 15 just like the rest of us do, even if they live on a reservation. "Not paying taxes" is a common attack hurled at Native people, and it is totally false.

In nearly every state of the union, Native Americans have thriving community centers, advocacy networks, and educational organizations. You can do a Google search and see for yourself just how vibrant and engaged Native Americas are in your state today! Then, become an educator yourself and speak up for Native people when you hear folks say "There aren't any Indians anymore." Show them the proof of cultural continuance. Become an advocate, a diplomat, a voice in your local school system so that future generations of Americans easily recognize the presence of their Native neighbors. Together, we can put an end to the ignorance about Native people and one day see the faces of Native American leaders, like Mohawk clan mother Tekonwatonti and Seneca orator Sagoyewatha, right next to Ben Franklin's in our children's kindergarten classes!









Indigenous children at the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: (

Last modified on
Dr. Mays is a professional writer with a doctoral degree in Native American Studies who has taught at the college level for nearly two decades. She is committed to educating about Indigenous cultures, especially about practices that specifically relate to women, in order to raise awareness about current issues in Indian Country, dissolve stereotypes, and create healing among all communities.


Additional information