Maricopa County Tops List of U.S. Counties with Largest Native American Population

I had a hunch recently that Maricopa County (Phoenix) would rank highly among all 3,200 U.S. counties and parishes for Native American population size. Maybe third or fourth place nationally. So I did a little digging. However, there were limited news sources with current data for county-level information.

With the help of the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) and data mining researcher Michael Boucher, I got a pleasant surprise this morning.

Michael scoured the Census database and returned the results to me within an hour. Maricopa County, Arizona is by far and away the number one county in the U.S. when it comes to the largest population of Native Americans and Indigenous people. According to the 2018 ACS data, 2.8% of Maricopa County’s population identifies as American Indian or Alaskan Native.

The tribal community population within Maricopa County is estimated by the ACS at 120,596. That’s 40.7% of the 296,000 Native Americans in Arizona.

The evidence of our large Native American community is all around the Valley. Sixteen of the 22 recognized tribes in the state operate casinos. Eight of those casinos are right here in the Phoenix metro.

If you have driven on the Loop 101 from Scottsdale to Tempe, you have traversed the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community tribal land. That land parcel was leased back to the state for the highway project for $247 million. It’s a 99-year land lease with the tribe.

Have you visited OdySea Aquarium, Talking Stick Resort or Salt River Fields? Perhaps you have shopped for a car at the Scottsdale Autoshow. All of the above are located on tribal community land.

There are several factors that contribute to this top ranking among U.S. counties. First, Maricopa County is simply massive. It has 9,224 square miles and is the 15th largest county by land area in the United States. Furthermore, it’s the fourth most populous U.S. county in general terms. Additionally, there are many tribes concentrated around the metro. The Ak-Chin, Gila River, Salt River Pima-Maricopa and the Tohono O’odham Nation all have a tribal land footprint within the county.

It wasn’t a stretch to learn that 4.6% of Maricopa County’s terra firma is Native American Indian reservation or tribal land.

Nine out of the ten counties in the top 10 with the highest Native American populations are in the West. Only Robeson County, North Carolina is east of the Mississippi River. Half of the counties on the list are located within Arizona; Maricopa County, Apache County, Navajo County, Pima County and Coconino County.

Los Angeles County, California has the largest total population on the list, but only .7% of the residents there identify as Native American Indian or Alaskan Native. It ranked second in the survey.

Native American tribal lands and reservations account for 19.8 million acres within the state and comprise 27.1% of Arizona’s total land area.

Sixty percent of all Indians live in urban areas, but nobody’s writing about them. They’re really an underrepresented population, and the ironic thing is very, very few of those we call Native American writers actually grew up on reservations, and yet most of their work is about reservations. – Sherman Alexie, Native American author, filmmaker and Spokane-Coeur D’Alene tribe member