According to the 2010 U.S. Census, more than 5.2 million people identified themselves as part of the American Indian and Alaska Native category, whether alone or in combination with other races—a 27 percent growth from the 2000 Census. The 2000 Census also marked the first time citizens were allowed to identify themselves as more than one race.
Matthew Fletcher, a professor of law and director of the Indigenous Law and Policy Center, participates in governing many American Indian tribes. Fletcher said although more individuals are reporting they are American Indian in census reports during the last 10 years, that wasn’t always the case.
“There were whole generations of people who would try to report (they were) white because they didn’t want to be seen as Indian,” he said. “They didn’t want to face discrimination.”
Fletcher said in the 20th century, American Indians often changed their names to assimilate to the primarily Caucasian population, often losing their native languages and culture.
Kim Rizzo, president of the Native American and Hispanic Business Students of MSU and a marketing and advertising junior, said the growth in reporting ethnicity might be because of a social change.
“Anyone who has some sort of racial identity (knows) it’s a definite struggle,” said Rizzo, who is not American Indian. “My guess would be people have started to break out of that mindset. … And in our generation, people are being more open-minded and embracing their culture.”