LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada's Clark County has one of the fastest growing Native American populations in the country but local leaders say they're struggling to receive the recognition they deserve.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that between July 2017 and 2018 the number of Native American people living in the county that includes Las Vegas grew at a faster rate than any other large county in the nation. In fact, among counties with populations of 20,000 or more, Clark County had the fastest annual growth rate of Native American people in three of the past five years.
Experts told the Las Vegas Review-Journal more Native Americans are moving to Clark County because of its strong economy, employment opportunities and proximity to reservations in Arizona, Utah and Southern California.
Rulon Pete, the executive director of the Las Vegas Indian Center, has seen an uptick in demand for his nonprofit's employment programs for Native Americans. Unemployment rates on tribal lands are higher than the U.S. average, and Pete said many of the 150 to 200 people he assists each year have moved to seek employment in construction, health care and hospitality.
"Vegas presents itself as a place you can be able to have a good paying job and where people can sustain a decent lifestyle," said Pete, who is a member of the Cedar Band of Paiutes in Utah. "They stay around and find out there are better opportunities here, and they spread the news back home."
Today about 50,000 people who self-identify as Native American live in Clark County, according to census statistics. Close to half are multiracial and most live in urban areas. Census officials report less than 1,000 live on reservations for the county's two federally recognized tribes, the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe and the Moapa Band of Paiutes.
Despite the population growth, Native Americans still represent only about 2 percent of the county's population.
Pete and others say they feel like they are still fighting to be recognized by the community at large.
That was the feeling in September, when the Clark County Commission punted voting on a resolution to designate the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples' Day. Commissioners disagreed whether to hold the new celebration on the same day as Columbus Day, a reasoning some Native Americans see as a continuation of their historic marginalization.
Similar measures have been adopted by state and local governments across the nation, some of which have opted to stop celebrating Italian explorer Christopher Columbus's first voyage to the Americas.
"The (Columbus Day) celebration was the discovery of America, but there were millions of people who were here," said Las Vegas resident Mercedes Krause, a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation of South Dakota who serves on Nevada's Commission on Minority Affairs. "I think it's a step toward recognition. We are here. We're part of our community."
County Commissioner Tick Segerblom said he plans to improve the proposal and try again next year.
Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com