Native American Heritage Month: KIDS COUNT data highlights

Written by: Children's Campaign
Date Posted: November 5, 2021

Monday marked the beginning of Native American Heritage Month. This week, we are highlighting some of the most recent high-quality data on American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) children from both our 2020 and 2021 editions of the KIDS COUNT in Colorado! report. These data illustrate just a small cross-section of the experiences of this vibrant community, including some of the disparities that continue to impact Indigenous children and adolescents in the areas of family economic security, early childhood, health, and K-12 education. We look to celebrate the essential culture of the original inhabitants of Colorado, as well as highlight the repercussions of intentionally harmful policies and practices on Indigenous communities of this land, and how they continue to create barriers to access and opportunity for Indigenous kids and their families. 

As you read through these data, we hope you find space to reflect on the ever-present need to prioritize the well-being of Indigenous people in what we now call Colorado. The upcoming legislative session, and beyond, will serve as an opportunity to enact and change policies that could create a state where a child’s race or ethnicity does not predict their opportunities to thrive. 

Demographics: In 2020, nearly 7,000 children in Colorado identified as American Indian or Alaska Native, making up about 1% of the state’s child population. Historically, the original inhabitants of Colorado included six different tribal nations. Today there are two federally recognized tribes in Colorado—the Southern Ute Tribe and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.  

Family Economic Security: Due to policies and practices that limit economic opportunity for families of color in our state, nearly 1 in 4 AI/AN children in Colorado are currently living in poverty, more than triple the rate seen among white children. Decades of research establish that experiencing poverty can impact child well-being in many ways, including having negative effects on a child’s mental, physical, and behavioral health, as well as their academic achievement. 

Health: Health coverage is a foundational element of child well-being and family economic security. In recent years, higher shares of American Indian/Alaska Native children have gone without health insurance compared to children of other races.  

Racial and ethnic health disparities driven by inequitable practices are well documented, and infant mortality rates show that these inequities are already causing irreparable harm to children in the earliest days of life. In Colorado and across the nation, infants of color—in particular, Black, American Indian, and Hispanic infants—face higher-than-average mortality rates. In 2019, 8.2 infant deaths occurred for every 1,000 births among American Indian and Alaska Native infants, compared to a rate of 4.9 deaths for every 1,000 births among children of all races. 

K-12 Education: About 1% of Colorado’s public school students are American Indian/Alaska Native, though only 0.4% of the state’s public school teachers identify this way. Research demonstrates that a lack of racial/ethnic diversity in the educator workforce has implications for all children, especially children of color. As of the 2019-2020 school year, 87% of Colorado’s public school teachers were white, with 66% identifying as white women, despite nearly half of the student population identifying as students of color.

American Indian and Alaska Native students experience limited access to academic resources which limit their academic opportunity, and this drives persistent gaps in achievement. In 2019, 18% of AI/AN students scored proficient on the CMAS math assessments, compared to 35% of all students. On the CMAS ELA assessments that year, 29% of AI/AN students demonstrated proficiency compared to 46% of all students. Such disparities point to the need to address significant resource disparities faced by our state’s AI/AN students. 

Despite these challenges, American Indian/Alaska Native, Black, and Hispanic students have seen the greatest gains in graduation rates since 2011. Among AI/AN students, their on-time graduation rate increased from 52% in 2011 to 65% in 2019. Having a high school diploma allows recent graduates to access a significantly greater number of work opportunities and can lead to better life, health and economic outcomes. In fact, a 2018 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau showed that high school graduates in Colorado earn 20% more than those without a high school diploma. 

 

This month in KidsFlash, we will be providing you with stories, resources, and ways to educate yourself on the many challenges Indigenous people continue to face as a result of longstanding discriminatory policies and practices. We recognize that the resources we provide throughout this month will not fully encapsulate any singular Indigenous experience, nor fully cover any of the hundreds of diverse Indigenous cultures that continue to make our community more vibrant. In addition to engaging with our resources, we encourage you to reflect on the land that you call home and learn specifically about those groups which long preceded you there. What Native land do you live on?  

For another opportunity to learn, on Nov. 8 from 4 – 5:15 p.m., the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs (CCIA) will host a roundtable to highlight the importance of behavioral health within American Indian and Alaskan Native communities and connect attendees with important resources. Register here. See our previous KidsFlash introduction to Native American Heritage month here for more resources and opportunities to engage. 

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The Colorado Children’s Campaign is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization committed since 1985 to realizing every chance for every child in Colorado. We advocate for the development and implementation of data-driven public policies that improve child wellbeing in health, education and early childhood. We do this by providing Coloradans with trusted data and research on child wellbeing and organizing an extensive state-wide network of dedicated child advocates. For more information, please visit www.coloradokids.org.