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Tribes Form Complete Count Committees to Promote Census Participation

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At the base of Palomar Mountain, about 20 miles east of the Pacific Ocean in northern San Diego County, lies the Pala Reservation, home to the Pala Band of Mission Indians.

The 1,000-member Pala Tribe and 17 other small tribes in San Diego County have great economic influence despite their size.  

“I’m a firm believer because I’ve been through it so many times that you have to hire your own people to get the count.”

— Robert Smith, chairman of the Pala Tribe

The Pala operate and own a casino that is a major economic contributor in the region, with annual purchases in goods and services of $80 million, a monthly payroll of $5 million, and 1,900 employees, both tribal and nontribal.

The tribe offers early childhood education classes, runs a charter elementary school, provides a youth center and library, and operates its own utilities. The tribe’s other enterprises include grapefruit and avocado orchards, and commercial leasing properties in Idaho and California.

For the last 29 years, Chairman Robert Smith has led the Pala on the tribe’s 12,273-acre territory.

And for the third time, Smith is leading the Pala Tribal Complete Count Committee (CCC) for the 2020 Census. 

As he has done in the past, Smith has taken the mantle of promoting the count by linking the importance of an accurate count to the resources and economic vitality of the reservation and nearby communities.

“I’m getting their attention because when we start using the numbers, it helps them understand the importance of a complete count,” Smith said of his engagement with tribal members. 

What Tribal Complete Count Committees Do

Smith selected the five members of the CCC with influence and succession in mind. Recruitment is one of the committee’s most robust initiatives and another way that Smith said the younger generation can feel more invested.

“I’m a firm believer because I’ve been through it so many times that you have to hire your own people to get the count,” Smith said. “You have a small committee that are energetic and young. It teaches them that it’s going to be a positive experience for the community.”

The CCC conducts outreach during scheduled annual events on the reservation. Most recently, it set up a booth at the tribe’s annual Cupa Days, an annual festival in May that highlights the tribe’s arts and crafts, performing arts and foods.

San Diego County’s independent tribal governments meet quarterly for coordination purposes. Smith considers that another important forum to promote the 2020 Census.

“When we meet, they sometimes bring up the lack of funds (to their communities) and I tell them that this is why you need to get an accurate count,” he said.

Tribal Interest in 2020 Census

Jessica Imotichey, the Census Bureau tribal partnership coordinator serving the Los Angeles Region and a registered member of the Chickasaw Nation, credits Smith’s leadership for opening doors for her with other tribes.

“I’m now having tribes call me to inquire about the census,” she said. “They are starting to understand the importance, and I really think it is due to the leadership of Chairman Smith.”

Smith will also join the CCCs of the state of California and of the San Diego Association of Governments. He will be a lead member of their tribal working groups, ensuring that coordination and outreach on tribal lands and among the tribes has a wider reach.

Find Complete Count Committees


A complete count of tribal areas is important.

Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham recently went to New Mexico, a state with a large American Indian population, and met with Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer and the elected leaders of the To’Hajiilee Chapter of the Navajo Nation.

Since 2015, the Census Bureau has held 17 tribal consultations, plus a national webinar, with federally- and state-recognized tribes, Alaska regional, and village corporations, meeting with a total of 264 tribes and over 400 tribal participants. For the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau is looking to hire 1,500 partnership specialists. These partnership staff are hired locally to engage with the communities we are working to reach, especially the hard-to-count population.

The staff is now working with tribal, state and local governments to form state complete count commissions and complete count committees in communities across the country. These are formal partnerships with tribal, state, and local governments that the Census Bureau can leverage utilizing the local trusted voices and expertise to extend the partnership staff reach to ensure a complete and accurate 2020 Census.

Idaho’s Shoshone-Bannock Tribes

This is also Denell Broncho’s third time participating in a census outreach role for her tribe.

Broncho is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and heads their Native Complete Count Committee. The Shoshone-Bannock — one of five federally recognized tribes in Idaho—have about 6,000 members, most of whom live on the Fort Hall Reservation in southeastern Idaho.

The 10-member CCC began meeting in January and plans on using similar approaches that Broncho said worked well during the 2000 and 2010 censuses.

“We’ll stress that the population count is critical for us as a tribal community because we have a need for housing, we have a need for health care, education and transportation, and for apportionment,” Broncho said. “Our community of citizens needs to be represented.”

Broncho, who has worked for the tribal government since 1993, is the current director of the Tribal Employments Rights Office, or TERO, which helps create jobs for tribal members at Fort Hall.

Just as it has done in the past, TERO will promote 2020 Census jobs on the reservation.

Economic Powerhouse

Fort Hall is a large reservation with approximately half a million acres. It straddles three Idaho cities and is located in four counties.

The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes contribute $400 million annually to the local economy through their thriving businesses that include casinos, a conference center, hotel, gift shops, gas stations and agricultural holdings.

The tribes employ more than 1,400 people in various roles related to their commercial enterprises or government functions.

Because the reservation is so vast and neighbors can often reside miles apart, the CCC is also represented in each of the reservation’s five tribal service districts.

The CCC also coordinates with the Fort Hall Business Council, the seven-member governing body of elected officials who represent each of the five districts.

“We’ll stress that the population count is critical for us as a tribal community because we have a need for housing, we have a need for health care, education and transportation, and for apportionment.”

— Denell Broncho, head of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes' Native Complete Count Committee

Recently, the Fort Hall Business Council passed a unanimous resolution designating the TERO director as the tribal liaison to the Census Bureau. Along with the Native CCC, it will work collectively and comprehensively to initiate, promote, educate, and involve the reservation community in the census processes.

“The members of our business council are liaisons to each of the five districts,” Broncho said. “Each district serves the residential membership of that particular geographical location. We’ll focus our outreach efforts within those districts because they are the most effective means of engaging the community.”

The CCC has an operating budget of $14,000. It will be used to purchase tribal-branded printed materials, promotional items and food to serve at outreach events throughout the year, such as the tribes’ annual Indian Festival in August. The festival draws thousands who live on and off the reservation.

“There has to be a cultural element,” she said. “In the past, we have set up booths at our annual Indian Festival. We have a powwow, rodeo, parade, art show, skate boarding and Indian Relay competitions. The population on the reservation can swell to up to 20,000 people.”

Targeting the Hard-to-Count

The Native CCC will also focus on specific hard-to-count populations, including children, tribal elders and incarcerated individuals.

New this time around is a plan to recruit a member of the tribe’s Youth Education Program to ensure continuity in future census outreach campaigns. 

If we don’t have new or younger people on our committee, they’ll be hitting this market blindly and we don’t want that,” Broncho said.Many of us on the committee will be retired by 2030.”

Nesreen Khashan is supervisory program analyst for the Census Bureau’s Community Partnership and Engagement Program.

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Page Last Revised - January 3, 2023
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