Skip to main content

Frequently Asked Questions

Black and white Laguna pottery

What is the correct terminology to describe indigenous peoples in the United States?

There are a variety of terms used by indigenous peoples to describe their ethnic identity.  Some of the most popular terms used in North, Central, and South America include:

American Indian - a person whose pre-Columbian ancestors are from what is now the lower 48 states of the US
Native American - a term used to refer to a person whose pre-Columbian ancestors are from the Americas - North, South, and Central
Alaska Native - a person whose pre-Columbian ancestors are from what is now Alaska
First Nations - the preferred term for people whose pre-Columbian ancestors are from what is now Canada
Native - a generic term often used in the US if a tribal name is not known or is not necessary

The preference we have found most popular among community members we work with is to be called by the traditional names used by their Tribal Nation.  These can include names in their traditional language (such as Diné for members of the Navajo Nation), band affiliation, or other common names used for members of their Tribal Nation. Ultimately, what term one person uses over another is a matter of personal preference and if you're ever unsure of how to refer to someone, just ask!

What is a Tribal Nation?

Tribal, or Indian, Nation is the proper term for an American Indian tribe. Per the United States Constitution, supported by U.S. Supreme Court decisions, Tribal Nations maintain a nation-to-nation relationship with the federal government and, therefore, are soveriegn nations within the U.S.  Tribal Nations have their own government structures (often including their own Institutional Review Boards) that must be considered when deciding to work with or conduct research in American Indian communities.

How many Tribal Nations are in the United States?

As of 2019, there are 573 federally recognized tribes in the United States.  There are also over 60 state recognized tribes.

Each of these Tribal Nations have their own unique cultural traditions, including distinctive languages and spiritual traditions.

What is the difference between federal and state recognition of Tribal Nations?

Federally recognized Tribal Nations are required to meet certain requirements to establish their nation-to-nation relationship with the federal government.  These Tribal Nations are afforded certain additional rights, including self-governance, and are provided certain services, benefits, and protections from the federal government, often through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

State recgonized tribes are merely recognized by the state and not guarunteed services or benefits from the state or federal government.  However, it does provide recognition of historical and cultural significance and contributions.  Further, some federal agencies can disperse funding to state recognized tribes.  These include the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services.  State recognized tribes are not afforded nation-to-nation status with the U.S. federal government.

Are American Indians United States citizens?

Yes!  The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 granted full citizenship to the indigenous peoples of the United States. 

Previously, American Indians could become citizens through a variety of means, often meant to assimilate Native individuals.  For instance, the Dred Scott decision (most famous for its ruling on the citizenship of all African Americans) included a provision for the granting of citizenship to American Indians that required a Native person to "leave his nation or tribe, and take up his abode among the white population."

Before this, American Indians were granted citizenship through other means including marrying non-Native citizens, accepting land allotments, and by serving in the military.  In fact, American Indians continue to serve in the United States Armed Forces at a higher rate than any other ethnic group in the U.S.

Do American Indians pay taxes?

Yes!  Due to their status as U.S. citizens, American Indians pay federal income taxes.  Although, there are some exceptions, as there are for other U.S. citizens, including sources of income that are derived from government programs.  However, Native people do not receive financial assistance from the federal government solely based on their status as Native peoples.

Tribal Nations, however, are not required to charge state sales tax on goods sold within reservation boundaries.  This frequently makes gasoline and tobacco cheaper on reservations.

How many American Indians are in the United States?

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 5.2 million people (approximately 2% of the U.S. population) identified as American Indian or Alaska Native exclusively or in combination with one or more other ethnicities.

Are there any Tribal Nations in Kansas and Missouri?

Yes!  There are four Tribal Nations in Kansas, all of which are located in the northeast corner of the state.  They are the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas, Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, and Sac & Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska.

Also, there is a sizable Native community in Lawrence, Kansas associated with Haskell Indian Nations University, as well as the urban Indian community in the Kansas City-metro.

There are no Tribal Nations presently in Missouri.

How many American Indians live in Kansas and Missouri?

There are approximately 35,000 American Indians in Kansas (just slightly over 1% of the Kansas population).  In Missouri, there are approximately 80,100 American Indians (also, just slightly over 1% of the Missouri population).

What is a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood card?

A Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood card (CDIB) is a document issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs verifying the portion of American Indian blood a citizen of a Tribal Nation possesses.  The amount of blood a person possesses is called a blood quantum and is usually represented as a fraction.  Tribal Nations typically have a set minimum for tribal enrollment purposes that qualifies an individual to enroll as a citizen of that Nation.  This concept began as early as the 1830s, but rose to prominence with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and continued through the mid-twentieth century in a period called the Termination Era.  While originally designed to diminish the number of individuals who could identify as American Indian, Tribal Nations have adapted the idea as a way to determine tribal citizenship.  Tribal Nations are able to make a number of modifications to change membership criteria including lowering blood quantum requirements or recognizing all currently enrolled citizens as full blood members.

This is not the same as taking currently available genetic tests and establishing supposed American Indian ancestry.  CAICH maintains that ethnic identity is not merely a genetic designation, but is a much more complicated delineation that includes cultural, experiential, linguistic, and other factors.

Furthermore, some tribes do not rely on blood quantum and instead use a system called lineal descent.  In this system, tribal citizens are required to trace their lineage back to a certain tribal roll, usually taken at the time of federal recognition, to be included as tribal citizens.

Additionally, Tribal Nations issue enrollment cards that verify citizenship in a given Nation.  These cards often include an individuals blood quantum, but are issued by the Tribal Nation itself, not the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

CAICH does not require research participants to present, or even possess, CDIB or tribal enrollment cards to participate in our studies.

Do Indians get free healthcare?

Per treaty agreements with tribes, the federal government is required to provide healthcare coverage for American Indians.  The federal government, through the Department of Health and Human Services, maintains the Indian Health Service (IHS). However, the IHS is chronically underfunded and riddled with access issues. Furthermore, IHS clinics only cover enrolled, CDIB carrying members of federally recognized tribes. 

The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 allowed for the establishment of tribally run clinics called "638 clinics" which are operated by the tribes themselves and supplement IHS coverage.  This program allows tribes themselves to assume portions of IHS funds and budget them in ways that they determine most useful to their communities.

Do American Indians go to college for free?

No!  American Indian college students must find ways to cover their tuition just like their non-Native peers.  Poor secondary education and college preparedness among many Native students frequently makes it more difficult to locate and secure scholarship and grant funding, including Native-specific opportunities.  These barriers, among others, contribute to persistant low college enrollment rates for American Indians.

Don't all Tribal Nations have casinos?

While it is true that federally recognized Tribal Nations are able to operate casinos and other gambling establishments because of their sovereign status, less than half of them support gaming operations.  Furthermore, tribal gaming operations do not guaruntee a steady, or even sizable, stream of revenue for the tribe.  Due to the rural nature of many Tribal Nations, access to casinos by non-Natives is greatly limited.

Last modified: Jul 22, 2019
Contact Us

Center for American Indian Community Health logo

Mailing Address:

Mailstop 1030
3901 Rainbow Blvd.
Kansas City, KS 66160

Physical Address:

4125 Rainbow Blvd.
2nd Floor
Kansas City, KS 66160

Main phone: 913-588-0866
Toll-free: 855-55-CAICH (or 855-552-2424)
Fax: 855-315-0055