Short leukocyte telomere length (LTL) has been associated with atherosclerosis in cross-sectional studies, but the prospective relationship between telomere shortening and risk of developing carotid atherosclerosis has not been well-established. This study examines whether LTL at baseline predicts incidence and progression of carotid atherosclerosis in American Indians in the Strong Heart Study. The analysis included 2,819 participants who were free of overt cardiovascular disease at baseline (2001-2003) and were followed through the end of 2006-2009 (average 5.5-yr follow-up). Discrete atherosclerotic plaque was defined as focal protrusion with an arterial wall thickness ≥50% the surrounding wall. Carotid progression was defined as having a higher plaque score at the end of study follow-up compared to baseline. Associations of LTL with incidence and progression of carotid plaque were examined using Cox proportional hazard regression, adjusting for standard coronary risk factors. Compared to participants in the highest LTL tertile, those in the lowest tertile had significantly elevated risk for both incident plaque (HR, 1.49; 95% CI, 1.09-2.03) and plaque progression (HR, 1.61; 95% CI, 1.26-2.07). Our results provide initial evidence for a potential prognostic utility of LTL in risk prediction for atherosclerosis.