Navajo Nation tops Cherokee to become largest tribe in US

Full Screen
1 / 4

AFP or licensors

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez speaks during a live radio address with first lady Jill Biden in attendance, in Window Rock, Ariz., on Thursday, April 22, 2021. Nez questions the fairness in awarding more money to tribes that don't have at least a one-fourth blood quantum. "Here on Navajo, we verify blood quantum, and that's a requirement," he says. (Mandel Ngan/Pool via AP, File)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Navajo Nation has by far the largest land mass of any Native American tribe in the country. Now, it's boasting the largest enrolled population, too.

Navajos clamored to enroll or fix their records as the tribe offered hardship assistance payments from last year's federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. That boosted the tribe's rolls from about 306,000 to nearly 400,000 citizens.

The figure surpasses the Cherokee Nation's enrollment of 392,000. But it, too, has been growing, said tribal spokeswoman Julie Hubbard. The Oklahoma tribe has been receiving about 200 more applications per month from potential enrollees, leaving Navajo's position at the top unstable.

The numbers matter because tribes often are allocated money based on their number of citizens. Each of the 574 federally recognized tribes determines how to count its population. Navajo, for example, requires a one-quarter blood quantum to enroll. Cherokee primarily uses lineal descent.

Tribal governments received $4.8 billion from the CARES Act based on federal housing population data for tribes, which some said was badly skewed. The Treasury Department recently revised the methodology and said it would correct the most substantial disparities.

The Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, one of three tribes that sued the Treasury Department over the payments, said it's satisfied with an additional $5.2 million it's set to receive. The Miccosukee Tribe of Indians in Florida and the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation in Kansas would get $825,000 and $864,000 under the new methodology. Both said those amounts didn't make sense when broken down to a per-person figure. They plan to continue their fight in court.

“We just cannot accept this as it is,” Carol Heckman, an attorney for Prairie Band, said in a court hearing last week. “We're happy to keep talking about it, but Treasury would have to sweeten the pie.”

The Miccosukee Tribe amended its lawsuit Wednesday to reflect the latest arguments.