In the early 1980s, two economic consultants presented information about the 1980 Census to professors and students in the economics department at the University of Idaho. They excitedly announced that the Nez Perce were one of the richest tribes in the United States with extremely low poverty and unemployment rates. The audience was stunned. That did not jive with what they knew. Then, someone asked the key question, “Did you use data for the tribe or the reservation?” The consultants said the reservation, which they thought was the same as the tribe. But they were wrong. While the Nez Perce Reservation had a population of roughly 17,800 in 1980, only about 1,500 residents were Native American.
The Dawes Act of 1887 led to a large number of white settlers buying land from tribal members throughout the West. As a consequence, Native Americans make up only 26 percent of the residents living on Idaho reservations. The following table shows the total and Native American populations of Idaho’s five reservations, and that the Native American population has been growing faster than the total population on the reservations.