Using ACS data to craft a demographic and economic portrait of the Navajo Nation is a very different proposition from using it to explore patterns in New York City. The Navajo Nation lands cover a land area in the Four Corners region of the Southwest that is roughly comparable to the state of West Virginia—across which is spread a resident population of roughly the same size as the single neighborhood of Flushing, Queens. However, the ACS is proving just as useful a resource, as Lester Tsosie (from the Navajo Nation’s Division of Economic Development) described in his workshop presentation. His workshop slides were actually a direct copy of a briefing that Tsosie’s division had prepared for tribal leaders in April 2012 as a briefing on the “economic landscape” of the Navajo Nation, so the core of his remarks at the workshop was actually a pure demonstration of the way in which ACS data are used to address the questions of policy makers.

For the benefit of the workshop presentation, though, he began with some basic overview of structure. The Navajo are one of roughly 550 American Indian tribes in the United States and—in both its membership population and the area of its tribal land holdings—is the largest of those tribes. The tribe maintains its own membership rolls, but respondents to the decennial census and the ACS can self-identify as Navajo in answering the question on race. Per a graph in his slides, the 2010 census reported just over 308,000 self-identified Navajo in the total U.S. population; of these, the majority (about 56 percent) lived “on reservation,” within the Navajo Nation’s tribal lands. That figure represents a decreased share of Navajo living on tribal land compared to the 2000 census (about 61 percent); Tsosie said that much of this migration from living on tribal land to living elsewhere is principally about Navajo people going to large urban centers for employment (and educational) opportunities.

Functionally, the Navajo Nation is a semiautonomous territory with its own “national” (tribe-level) executive, legislative, and judicial branches. It is divided into 110 chapters that perform some local government functions; these chapters vary greatly in size and population—and 110 chapters partition the on-reservation population of about 173,000 quite finely—but the chapters are a natural and meaningful level of resolution for looking at demographic data.

Tsosie’s economic and demographic briefing for tribal leaders centered around four choropleth maps, working with four variables calculated from 5-year 2006–2010 ACS data:

  • Families in poverty: Per Tsosie’s calculations, on the order of 13.8 percent of the total U.S. population has income levels below the poverty line; within the Navajo Nation, that proportion is nearly tripled (37.7 percent). Based on the map, the Division of Economic Development superimposed black circles to draw tribal leaders’ attention to 10 particularly prominent

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