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Preparing for the 2020 Census in Indian Country

Wed Jul 20 2016
Written by: John H. Thompson
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A few weeks ago, I traveled to Spokane, Wash., to the National Congress of American Indians’ midyear meeting. I enjoyed meeting with tribal leaders and telling them about our 2020 Census planning goals in Indian Country.

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There are challenges to enumerating any group of people in the census, and counting American Indians and Alaska Natives who live on tribal lands poses its own set of obstacles. Geography and climate can be big challenges. In areas such as the Navajo Nation or Remote Alaska, we may need to use horses, ATVs, helicopters and even dogsleds to reach everyone. Other challenges include language barriers and multigenerational living arrangements, which can affect the accuracy of the count.

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Because of these potential obstacles, a key part of our early preparations for the next census is communication with the tribes. The Census Bureau talks to, notifies and consults with the tribes before we make decisions or implement policies, rules or programs that affect tribal governments. This year alone, we’ve conducted eight tribal consultations and one national webinar across Indian Country in order to strengthen our relationship, and ensure a full and accurate count of the Alaska Native and American Indian population.

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Tribal members are an important source of information on issues such as enumeration, population statistics, partnerships, geography and recruiting. We depend on their help to identify potential census staff members and enumerators who speak the languages we need, and who understand local living arrangements.

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At the NCAI meeting, I was able to meet with several members of the tribal press, whose assistance we will need in communicating the importance of the census to Native Americans and Alaska Natives. I also met Michael Marchand, vice chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, and offered my condolences on the passing of tribal Chairman Jim Boyd last month. I was also able to thank Mr. Marchand for his cooperation in allowing the Census Bureau to hold part of the 2017 Census Test on the Colville Indian Reservation and off-reservation trust land in Washington.

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I thank NCAI and the tribal leaders for their invitation to speak at their midyear meeting, and I deeply appreciate their interest in and contributions to the 2020 Census. I encourage tribal leaders and members to participate in the tribal consultation meetings that the Census Bureau is holding through the end of 2016. In addition, we hope to learn and gather feedback from the tribes on many more occasions over the decade. Many thanks to NCAI for their collaboration now and in the future.

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