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Alaska Start IV

Wed Jan 27 2010
Robert Groves
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I learned that one of the challenges of the Noorvik school is a high turnover of students. Some of the children live for relatively short periods of time with relatives in Noorvik and then return to another village and another school. This is a natural result of the strength of extended family support networks. It is also compatible with the subsistence culture, in which family units follow the food from hunting, fishing, and plant and fruit gathering over the year.

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With regard to children, it forms a challenge for the 2010 Census, because students moving across households may be missed in reports of who lives at the unit. Clearly, our method of enumerating native villages quickly and early will help, but our enumerators have to be careful to include everyone currently there and then make sure we have correct answers to the question: “Does this person sometimes stay or live somewhere else?”

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After the enumeration of the first household in Noorvik on Monday we had a rather formal assembly with multiple speakers and the exchange of tokens of appreciation to those gathered. In addition to two plaques noting the nation’s thanks to Noorvik for being the first group counted, I presented a copy of the Census Bureau’s policy regarding relationships with American Indian tribes and Alaska Native communities. We followed that policy in Noorvik, consulting with the community leadership early and often, in order to make sure we understood their culture’s reaction to the 2010 Census. We attempted to respect features of the culture that affected how the information might be obtained. We attempted to be sensitive to the views of the elders, whom I met the first day at Noorvik. We sought the guidance of the village leadership on who might be best suited for the census taker roles. Our Alaska staff appeared to fulfill this policy in exquisite fashion. They were received as friends and trusted allies in getting a complete count of the village. Many of the village leaders made sure I knew how well our folks had done their job.

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Monday evening we had a feast of moose, caribou, and muktuk (whale skin and blubber) along with more traditional fare like turkey and dressing. The meal was followed with native dancing from villages surrounding Noorvik (some as far North as New Hope on the Northern coast). Next a band of electric and acoustic guitars, drums, and keyboard appeared, playing mainly country and western music. The musicians were the mayor, the president of the Noorvik native community, and the school principal among others. They started with an old Hank Williams tune, and played other favorites they had grown up with.

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We have one more day of training for the five census takers for Noorvik; we’ll probably begin interviewing Wednesday or Thursday (it was a late night Monday). Other villages will roll out similar operations over the coming days, in three waves following the anticipated schedule of the Spring thaw.

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Director Robert Groves

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