As in several other Latin American countries, national censuses in Brazil have expanded the number of questions specifically pertaining to Indigenous populations since the 1990s. In addition to characterising demographic processes generally, the increasing presence of Indigenous populations in national statistics has also aimed to inform public policies and thereby help reduce social, economic, and health iniquity. The ‘color or race’ response option ‘indígena’ was included for a statistically representative sub-sample of respondents in the 1991 and 2000 Brazilian Censuses. For the first time in the 2010 census, all respondents were asked to declare their ‘color or race’ and, if the answer was ‘indígena’, each was asked a series of additional questions about his or her ethnic identity and language. As a result of this increased coverage and more detailed questioning about Indigenous identities, the 2010 Census has produced some intriguing findings. Compared to 2000, there was an increase in the number of people classified as Indigenous (from 734,000 to 818,000) at the same time that there was a strong shift in territorial distribution: an overall decrease in urban areas (from 383,000 to 315,000) was accompanied by a marked increase in rural areas (from 351,000 to 503,000). While the growth in rural areas is consistent with what is known about Indigenous demographics in Brazil, the decrease in the number of people identified as ‘indígena’ in urban areas remains unexplained. In this paper, we present a historical and anthropological analysis of the inclusion of the category ‘indígena’ in recent Brazilian national censuses (1991, 2000, and 2010) and explore the demographic and policy implications associated with increased detailed information on Indigenous ethnic belonging.