NCAI launches Indian Country Counts census campaign
By Gale Courey Toensing
Story Published: Oct 22, 2009
Story Updated: Oct 16, 2009
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. –The National Congress of American Indians launched its 66th annual convention and trade show with the theme “Indian Country Counts” – a double entendre that reflects the growing importance of Indian country and the name of a campaign to ensure that all Native people are counted in the 2010 census.
“The numbers that come out of the 2010 Census will affect policy and human service programs for Native communities for generations to come,” said NCAI President Joe A. Garcia. “A true Indian count is just one of the steps that tribes must take on the path to regaining our economic, social and governmental strength as Native people. This data directs billions of dollars in federal funding that flows into Indian country. Often the most vulnerable are the hardest to count, and consequently end up missing out on the resources they need.”
Robert Groves, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, presented Garcia with a plaque reproducing a policy statement he signed that acknowledges the unique government-to-government relationship with tribal nations and pledges to consult with tribes before the Census Bureau formulates policies, plans and operating behaviors for staff to follow during the census.
“It reaffirms our responsibility to work with you to encourage participation in the census and establishes a standard of recognition that affords each tribal government its own relationship with the Census Bureau. We are committed to a policy of mutual respect,” Grove said.
A massive outreach campaign to encourage American Indians and Alaska Natives to participate in the census is underway. Census staff are attending national and regional meetings and powwows to explain what the census is, and a media campaign will soon begin that will feature, among other things, posters by Native artists and paid advertising in local and Native media.
Some 4.2 million AI/AN people were counted in the 2000 census, with estimates that the actual population was undercounted by more than 12 percent.
“We want an accurate count of American Indian and Alaska Natives and we want an accurate count of the U.S. population. You know that in addition to having a portrait of America, the census determines the distribution of over $400 billion a year in taxpayer money back to the people. The census has to be accurate in order for the distribution of those funds to be appropriate and fair,” Groves said.
Tribal leaders complained that previously enumerators showed up unannounced in tribal communities and left without a clear picture of the tribal population, but that problem will be eliminated this time by the promise of prior consultation. The Census Bureau has also hired numerous tribal citizens as liaisons that will spread the word about the census process and encourage participation.
A new simplified census form has 10 questions. Under the race question, a person can check the box to identify as AI/AN and has the option to include the name of his or her enrolled or principal tribe.
The census work is already underway. Last summer field workers traveled the country and created a master list of addresses.
The bureau will use different strategies to reach out to people.
“Some field workers will visit homes and drop off forms; in other areas, we will come with your permission and cooperation to visit homes and interview people,” Groves said.
Enumerating the 64 percent of Native people who don’t live on reservations or in villages is particularly difficult, Groves said.
“We need your help on this to reach out and put in volunteer time.”
Curtis Zunigha, the Census Bureau’s American Indian and Alaska Native program manager, said his team will work vigorously all over the country to count all Native people, whether they are members of federal or state recognized tribes, and even those who claim tribal status of non-recognized tribes.
“Our job and our goal is 100 percent counting in Indian country.”
Groves also talked about what he called the “natural” reactions of mistrust that some Native people feel in response to requests from the federal government to participate in the census. He cited a law that prohibits the Census Bureau from sharing any information with other federal agencies and imposes a five-year prison sentence and $250,000 fine for violations.
“We follow this law,” he promised.
NCAI has created a Web site that provides information, news, resources, links, a census tool and more.
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"Our sacred lands are all that remain keeping us connected to our place on Mother Earth, to our spirituality, our heritage and our lands; what’s left of them. If they take it all away, what will remain except a vague memory of a past so forgotten?" ......excerpt from One Nation, One Land, One People by Tamra Brennan, 2006