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Native American Heritage Month: Population and Business Trends

This post was written by Lynn Weinstein a Business Reference Librarian in the Science, Technology, and Business Division.

two men seated at a recording device one is speaking into the recording horn dressed in Native American clothing with headress

Frances Densmore recording Native American songs sung by Mountain Chief (Sioux). (Source: Minnesota Historical Society) Harris & Ewing, 1915

The American story has been shaped by indigenous people, but because their stories, histories, and cultures are often told by others, our knowledge of them is incomplete as indigenous peoples traditionally expressed their histories through oral narratives generally shared only among their own people.  November is American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month, a time to reflect and pay tribute to indigenous Americans for their contributions to the United States. In 2020, there were 7.1 million American Indians and Alaskans, alone or in combination with other racial groups, representing 574 federally recognized tribes with 324 American Indian reservations in existence today.

man seated wearing suspenders holding a photograph of a Native American

Harkin Lucero, Jr., a celebrated professional artist and sculptor, photographed in Pueblo, Colorado. is holding a photograph, taken by famed western artist and photographer Edward S. Curtis for the Library of Congress, of his great-great grandfather, a Navajo who went by the single name Lucero. Carol M. Highsmith, 2015.

In examining indigenous businesses, the 2012 Census indicated that there were 272,919 American Indian and Alaska Native-owned firms, up 15.3 percent from 2007. While this figure accounted for 1.0 percent of all U.S. businesses, the Census survey indicated that these businesses represented 2.7 percent of those in the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting. One in four of these businesses support tourism, with an economic impact estimated at $14 billion. The indigenous population accounts for 1.8 percent of the 18 and older population, and is most populous in California (41,254), and Oklahoma (27,450). Los Angeles County had more American Indian and Alaska Native-owned businesses (11,081) than any other county, while Alaska was the state where American Indian and Alaska Native-owned businesses comprised the highest percentage (11%). During this time period, in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, and Oklahoma, the number of Native American firms increased by over twenty percent.

Native Americans own thriving small businesses in a variety of industries, including art, automotive repair, barbering, beauty, catering, construction, consulting, fashion, jewelry, yoga, and businesses catering to hospitality and tourism. The Small Business Administration (SBA) provides assistance to Native American-owned businesses through opportunities in contracting, business development, and small business incubators. Through these initiatives, indigenous people are reshaping and telling their narratives, as these stories are not well told in our current collections.

Learn More:

Ruins in mummy cave, Canon del Muerte, Arizona. John K. Hillers., 1881.

Arizona portion of Monument Valley, a desert region on the Arizona-Utah border known for the towering sandstone buttes of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Carol M. Highsmith, 2018.

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