Who is an Indian?

Updated September 9, 2022 | Infoplease Staff

No single federal or tribal criterion establishes a person's identity as an Indian. Tribal membership is determined by the enrollment criteria of the tribe from which Indian blood may be derived, and this varies with each tribe. Generally, if linkage to an identified tribal member is far removed, one would not qualify for membership.

To be eligible for Bureau of Indian Affairs services, an Indian must (1) be a member of a tribe recognized by the federal government, (2) be of one-half or more Indian blood of tribes indigenous to the United States; or (3) must, for some purposes, be of one-fourth or more Indian ancestry. By legislative and administrative decision, the Aleuts, Eskimos and Indians of Alaska are eligible for BIA services. Most of the BIA's services and programs, however, are limited to Indians living on or near Indian reservations.

The Bureau of the Census counts anyone an Indian who declares himself or herself to be an Indian. As of 2010, the Census Bureau estimates there were more than 2.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives living in the United States.

See also: American Indian versus Nation American and What is a federally recognized tribe?

Source: Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior

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