Who is a Native American?

George Armstrong Custer predicted Native Americans soon would be extinct before he ordered his soldiers to kill them at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. Just as Custer discovered in his fatal encounter with Lakota and Cheyenne warriors, the native tribes proved resilient in surviving impossible odds.

More than 4 million U.S. citizens in 2003 identified as Native Americans, either alone or in combination with another race. This is a little more than 1 percent of the total 294 million people living in the United States, far fewer than the 10 to 25 million believed to be living in North America when European settlers arrived about 500 years ago. Those settlers spread fatal diseases, imposed genocide, forced assimilation, stole land, broke treaties, destroyed cultures and committed other crimes that ravaged indigenous societies.

Centuries of dehumanization resulted in the educational, economic and health disparities evidenced by Native Americans today. But refusal to succumb also nurtured a strong will embodied by many Native Americans who now comprise more than 560 federally recognized tribes and nations spread across 34 states and 140 more tribes applying for federal recognition.

That strong will has empowered Native-American entrepreneurs and those in the corporate world to thrive in a society where mainstream values sometimes run counter to their traditional beliefs. Yet Jackie Gant's frustration is clear when she speaks of how many people only envision slot machines and blackjack tables when they think of Native Americans as an economic force.

Gant, national executive director of the Native American Business Alliance, met Bush administration officials in the White House in September to let them know of the 10,000 Native-American-owned businesses listed in her database. Her organization's mission is to create networking opportunities and promote Native-American businesses as suppliers to corporate America and government agencies. Her group has the support of corporate sponsors including United Parcel Service, Ford Motor Co., General Motors, DaimlerChrysler, Toyota, The Coca-Cola Co., General Mills, Target and The Walt Disney Co. At the meeting, she tried to convey the strength of a people who saved the first white settlers from starvation and influenced the founding fathers in shaping the Constitution. Gant is a member of the Oneida Nation of the Thames, Canada, and Munsee-Delaware Nation.

"As I stood, I felt the weight of Indian country on my shoulders and I knew the words I spoke needed to be heard," Gant says.

Gant and other Native Americans have made great strides in dispelling myths and bringing attention to their issues, but the widespread ignorance of their history still pervades the highest levels of leadership, up to and including the president himself. President Bush displayed a lack of knowledge on the most crucial issue facing Native Americans—sovereignty—when he was asked in August what tribal sovereignty in the 21st century meant to him.

"You are a ... you have been given sovereignty, and you are viewed as a sovereign entity," Bush told journalists of color gathered in Washington, D.C.

Bush's response rang hollow and was reminiscent of the countless false promises many white men have made to Native Americans over centuries. Sovereignty speaks to the right of Native Americans to control their own land where they are free to shape their economic and spiritual destiny and maintain their traditions and culture. The lack of substance and depth in Bush's answer typified the harmful perceptions, attitudes and actions that have persisted for centuries among white leaders.

Those who say that the wrongs of the past are history and that it is time to move forward frustrate Native Americans, for it is the ignorance of history that defines their present situation and continues to threaten their future. Forgetting and ignoring the past is not an option, but Native Americans live in a white man's world. Their challenge lies in enlightening non-Natives about their history, traditions, cultures and rights as distinct governments, while creating a prosperous future on their own terms.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

Entrepreneurs, such as Margaret Rodriguez, demonstrate the strong desire of Native Americans to succeed. A member of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community in Arizona, Rodriguez started her company, Au Authum Kí, 12 years ago when bankers refused to lend her money. Her company generated $24 million in revenue for 2003. Au Authum Kí translates into "the people's home."

Rodriguez's projects have ranged from a $1.9-million contract for rebuilding a high-tech structure to house a weather squadron at a Tucson Air Force Base to having her workers camp within the Grand Canyon, where they installed portable classrooms on the Havasupai reservation. She also started a charity last year that builds homes for members of her tribal community who can't afford them.


The entrepreneurial spirit isn't unique to Rodriguez as the economic muscle of Native Americans continues to grow, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth and the U.S. Census Bureau. Americans who identified themselves solely as Native Americans and Alaska Natives numbered 2.4 million and 4.1 million when they identified with one or more races, according to the 2000 census. Most Native Americans, 43 percent, lived in the West, while 11 states comprised 62 percent of the Native-American population.

Despite their small population, Native Americans are expected to see their buying power jump from $47.7 billion in 2004 to $65.6 billion in 2009. Native Americans will account for 0.6 percent of total U.S. buying power in 2009, up from 0.5 percent in 1990, according to the Selig Center.

The 2001 Survey of Minority Owned Business Enterprises by the Census Bureau reported 197,300 Native-American- and Alaska-Native-owned businesses in the United States that employed 298,700 people. F

2 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    Who is a Native American?

    A member of the fasted growing segment of American society, both in population and economy.

    Native Americans have created a strong infrastructure, which is rapidly developing the Native American economy. Native Americans have a long way to go to ensure that all Native people across the continent benefit, but Native Americans have already created thousands of jobs. Native Americans have developed their own educational system, social/medical services, political/legal services, media, music industry etc. All employing Native people both on the reservations and in the urban areas.

    Big Business is aware of the quiet economic revolution taking place in Indian Country and are actively trying to capture an untapped market. . . Native Americans.

    Along with the corporate sponsors already mentioned other examples are Nike, Colleges/Universities, Banks and the Casino Corporations.


    • Nike - Nike unveiled what it said is the first shoe designed specifically for American Indians.

    Does the Shoe Fit? Native Nike footwear raises concerns

    • Colleges/Universities - Access any educational institution and you will see the wide range of Native American programs/services aimed at attracting Native students. Students = $$$

    • Casino Corporations were one of the first to expand their business ventures via Native Americans.

    • Financial institution (Banks) Once had a non-lending policy to Native Americans. The reversal of that policy spurred entrepreneurship in the Native American population, providing a new market for the Financial institutions.


    Information from Business/Marketing reports.

    Native American owned firms primarily in the areas of business services, personal services, and construction industries, outperformed all other groups in terms of receipts.

    Marketing to Native Americans Demographics

    Native Americans are the nation's second-wealthiest minority, behind Asians, reports Alison Stein Wellner in the August American Demographics magazine.

    American Demographics magazine


    Native Americans have played a vital role in the economic conditions of the United States. For example, every year, Native American tribes contribute significantly to the overall energy production of the U.S. In 1997 alone Native Americans supplied 32 million tons of coal, 270 million mcf of gas, 15 million barrels of oil and 5.5 million tons of construction aggregate.

    In the same year tribal businesses contributed to the lumber industry by harvesting 650 million board feet of timber. They have reforested more than 14,000 acres and completed forest improvements on an additional 66,625 acres of land. Native Americans also have made an impact on the fishery programs, and release more than 40 million young salmon and steelhead trout in the Pacific Northwest every year.

    Tribal businesses have contributed to $10 billion in wage and salary income to the United States and created more than 300,000 jobs. This has generated more than $4-6 billion in federal tax revenue annually. The Native American art and craft industry generates more than $1 billion every year.

    On the state and local government levels, tribal communities contribute $246 million in tax revenues annually, and the combined purchases of goods from reservations total $5.5 billion on an annual basis.

    Tribal Business Contributions


  • Anonymous
    6 years ago

    we probably will go extinct we will be out bred that's

    what the us government trying to do after the stand of at wounded knee in the 70s

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