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Burden on Native Americans for 2020 Census Outreach

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North and South Dakota is preparing for the 2020 U.S. census. (Neeta Lind/Wikimedia Commons)
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North and South Dakota is preparing for the 2020 U.S. census. (Neeta Lind/Wikimedia Commons)
April 24, 2019

BISMARCK, N.D. - With the official launch of the 2020 U.S. census less than a year away, Native American communities are ramping up efforts to ensure that everyone is represented.

Early outreach could be critical for an accurate count in North Dakota, where about 40% of Native Americans live in hard-to-count areas, according to the Leadership Conference Education Fund. The National Congress of American Indians of the United States has raised concerns that the federal government isn't supplying enough funding for their communities, putting potential resources for tribes at risk.

Charles Walker, a councilman for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said it's up to tribes to get the word out.

"The federal government's going to come in, they're going to train people, they're going to pay them - probably some good money - for a few months of work," he said. "But on our part, it's getting the word to our people that this is important."

In the 2010 census, it's estimated that people living on tribal lands nationwide were undercounted by nearly 5%. According to a George Washington University analysis, North Dakota received about $1.8 billion from federal programs that use census data in 2016.

Walker said it's also important for tribes to use culturally relevant methods to get members on board with the census.

"We like to get some of our elders involved," he said, "because, within our community, there's certain individuals out there that carry a lot more responsibility, in the fact that people listen to them a lot more."

Walker said the rural nature of many reservations presents a challenge for getting to everyone. The fact that Standing Rock straddles the line between North and South Dakota could be a barrier as well. As with voter registration, Walker said the lack of a typical home-address system in Native American communities also will be a challenge for the Census Bureau.

Leadership Conference data is online at civilrightsdocs.info, and the GWU analysis is at gwipp.gwu.edu.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND