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Indian Country Overview

Approximately 55.7 million acres of land in the United States are held in trust by the U.S. Government for American Indians, Indian Tribes, and Alaska Natives. These lands, collectively referred to as "Indian Country," are under the administration, management, and oversight of the BIA. Indian Country includes over 300 federally recognized reservations, upon which nearly 945,000 individuals reside. (See Table 1.) A majority of these individuals reside on reservations in Arizona, New Mexico, Washington, Montana, and South Dakota. (See Table 2.) Approximately 55 percent of individuals residing on federally recognized reservations identified themselves as Native American or Alaskan Native during the last U.S. Census. (See Table 1.)

Table 1. Population, Land Area, and Socioeconomic Status of Federally Recognized Reservations in the U.S. and by OCDETF Region

  Population Total Area (Square Miles) Per Capita Income Below Poverty Level Unemployment Rate
United States 281,421,906 3,794,083.06 $21,587 12.4% 5.8%
Federally Recognized Reservations 944,317* 112,637.29 $12,452 28.4% 13.6%
Florida/Caribbean OCDETF Region** 2,939 269.59 $15,675 16.0% 9.0%
Great Lakes OCDETF Region 105,644 5,691.48 $13,843-$19,867 13.1-22.4% 6.5-11.1%
New England OCDETF Region 2,514 330.58 $10,831-$27,261 4.2-31.6% 4.1-18.1%
New York/New Jersey OCDETF Region 15,106 135.40 $12,930 21.3% 9.4%
Pacific OCDETF Region 215,117 12,288.83 $11,090-$19,767 16.4-25.0% 11.0-14.2%
Southeast OCDETF Region 14,507 119.13 $6,729-$18,210 13.9-58.9% 5.8-26.6%
Southwest OCDETF Region 415,368 47,077.93 $7,642-$19,767 13.2-43.5% 5.6-22.9%
West Central OCDETF Region 223,382 47,572.59 $8,480-$17,391 13.7-42.3% 5.5-18.3%

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2000.
* Fifty-five percent of this number, or approximately 519,000, are Native Americans.
Note: The U.S. Census Bureau calculates the per capita income, poverty level, and unemployment rate for all Indian reservations in each state. Reservations in OCDETF regions are reported as ranges from the lowest to the highest state figures for that region.
** There are no federally recognized reservations in the Mid-Atlantic OCDETF Region.

Table 2. States With the Highest Number of Individuals Residing on Reservations in the Continental United States

State Population on Reservation
1. Arizona 179,064
2. New Mexico 138,839
3. Washington 116,827
4. Montana   63,616
5. South Dakota   59,355

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2000.

Indian Country constitutes less than 3 percent of the land area of the United States. (See Table 1.) It consists of vast tracts of land, often in geographically remote areas of the United States. Consequently, residents of Indian Country, who make up a very small segment of the overall population of the United States, are often isolated, and the societal problems that confront them, including drug abuse, are not as visible as those faced by residents of urban, suburban, and most rural areas of the country. Moreover, the remote and vast geographic nature of Indian Country impedes the efficient provision of public services, such as employment counseling, behavioral and health services, drug dependency treatment, and public safety programs.

The vast land area of Indian Country also creates considerable challenges for law enforcement officials in Native American communities. Law enforcement agencies generally cover thousands of square miles on reservations, often with limited personnel and equipment. For example, BIA had fewer than 10 certified drug investigators to cover all of Indian Country during 2007. Moreover, a limited number of correctional facilities in Indian Country to house juvenile and adult offenders poses manpower and public safety issues to Native American communities, since law enforcement officials must often travel great distances to commit offenders to correctional facilities, sometimes leaving their communities with limited or no police services. (See Appendix C for further discussion regarding policing and law enforcement in Indian Country.)

High levels of unemployment and poverty are prevalent throughout Indian Country and contribute to Native American communities' susceptibility to substance abuse and exploitation by drug traffickers. Unemployment on reservations in Indian Country (13.6%) is more than twice as high as the national rate (5.8%). (See Table 1.) High unemployment is due, in large part, to the limited availability of employment opportunities on reservations. Most Native Americans who are employed work in low-paying jobs with area retailers; social, health, and human services agencies; and tribal offices. The average poverty level on federally recognized reservations (28.4%) is more than double the national poverty level (12.4%) Reservations in the Southeast, Southwest, and West Central Regions have the highest reported poverty levels, while reservations in the New England Region (specifically, in Massachusetts and Connecticut) have the lowest. (See Table 1.)3

End Note

3. See Appendix B for U.S. Census Bureau definitions.

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