OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A change in the way American Indians identify their racial background may have contributed to a survey that says the state has lost 60,000 of its American Indian residents.
Results from a 2002 survey of the American Indian community showed nearly a 2 percent decline in the number of one-race American Indians since 2000.
The American Community Survey results, released last week, were designed to give communities a fresh look at how they are changing during the ten years between census years.
Alfredo Navarro, chief of the design branch at the American Community Survey office in Washington, said he thinks American Indians may have changed the way they identified themselves since 2000.
In the 2000 census, 254,810 Oklahomans identified themselves as one-race Indian. That number dropped to 199,595 in the 2001 American Community Survey.
``In recent discussions with our race and ethnicity advisory committees, some members pointed out that during Census 2000 there was a specific effort in some areas asking the Native American population to mark a single response to the race question,'' he said.
In a similar survey taken a year later, it appears many Oklahoma Indians switched back to marking two or more races.
Three years ago, 170,819 Oklahomans said they were two or more races. That number rose to 210,684 in 2002.
In 2002, 90 percent of Oklahoma's multirace respondents were American Indians and some other race.
``I'm just suggesting a theory,'' Navarro said. ``These data suggest a response change behavior, particularly for Native Americans.''
University of Oklahoma anthropologist Circy Sturm, who has studied racial and cultural identification in the Cherokee Nation said Oklahomans have a more flexible idea of what it means to be Indian.
Because of that, they might be likely to identify themselves as multiracial and Indian.
Its also becoming more common for people to begin identifying more with the American Indian roots.
``Sometimes it's for economic purposes, but there is also a tendency for people to sort of lay claim to their alternate identities,'' she said. ``So my sense is that it's really a survey error of some sort going on.''
Officials at the Cherokee Nation said there has not been a mass exodus of American Indians leaving the state.
``That's one of those things that we would know about,'' said Mike Miller, spokesman for the Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma's largest Indian tribe.
``I think there have been times in the history of Oklahoma that many Native Americans (have left), but the last time was probably in the Great Depression, when people of all ethnicities were leaving,'' he said.
The Cherokees had 161,137 Oklahoma members on the rolls as of last week, up from 131,070 in April 2000.
The Choctaw Nation also is growing, spokeswoman Judy Allen said.
The Choctaws don't keep a separate record of Oklahoma members, but total tribal membership grew from 121,927 in August 2000 to 138,573 this August, Allen said.