The Case of the Missing Ethnicity: Indians Without Tribes in the 21st Century

40 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2011

See all articles by Carolyn Liebler

Carolyn Liebler

University of Minnesota - Minneapolis

Meghan Zacher

University of Minnesota - Minneapolis

Date Written: June 1, 2011


Among American Indians and Alaska Natives, most aspects of ethnicity are tightly associated with the person’s tribal origins. Language, history, foods, land, and traditions differ among the hundreds of tribes indigenous to the United States. Why did almost one million of them fail to respond to the tribal affiliation part of the Census 2000 race question? We investigate four hypotheses about why one-third of multiracial American Indians and one-sixth of single-race American Indians did not report a tribe: (1) survey item non-response which undermines all fill-in-the-blank questions, (2) a non-salient tribal identity, (3) a genealogy-based affiliation, and (4) mestizo identity which does not require a tribe. We use multivariate logistic regression models and high-density restricted-use Census 2000 data. We find support for the first two hypotheses and note that the predictors and results differ substantially for single race versus multiple race American Indians.

Keywords: Ethnic identity, American Indian, U.S. Census, tribe

Suggested Citation

Liebler, Carolyn and Zacher, Meghan, The Case of the Missing Ethnicity: Indians Without Tribes in the 21st Century (June 1, 2011). US Census Bureau Center for Economic Studies Paper No. CES-WP-11-17. Available at SSRN: or

Carolyn Liebler (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota - Minneapolis

308 Harvard Street SE
United States


Meghan Zacher

University of Minnesota - Minneapolis

110 Wulling Hall, 86 Pleasant St, S.E.
308 Harvard Street SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

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