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Census 2020: Counting Colorado's Native American Population

Census data is used by tribal leaders, federal officials and members of Congress to develop policies designed to effectively meet the needs of Native people, including veterans. (Pixabay)
Census data is used by tribal leaders, federal officials and members of Congress to develop policies designed to effectively meet the needs of Native people, including veterans. (Pixabay)
March 17, 2020

DENVER -- Native Americans living in traditional villages and on reservations were the most undercounted group in the 2010 U.S. census. Now tribal leaders in Colorado are encouraging all residents across racial and ethnic lines to participate.

Rick Waters is a Kiowa Cherokee and executive director of the Denver Indian Center. He said as populations grow throughout Indian Country, it's important to get an accurate count of Native Americans, both self-identified and those enrolled within their tribes.

"The census is important to the Indian community primarily because it gives us an opportunity to actually show our numbers, that we are here, and break down that invisibility," Waters said.

The biggest barrier to getting an accurate count is fear of the federal government. Historically, government counts have been used to remove Native American children from families into boarding schools and force people off their lands.

All data collected in the census is confidential by law, and anyone breaking that law can be sentenced to five years in prison and receive a fine of up to $250,000.

An undercount can lead to unequal political representation and unequal access to vital public and private resources. Indian Country currently receives nearly $1 billion in federal funding per year based on the 2010 census. And Waters said that funding is critical for programs important to Indian communities.

"Our veterans, our children, the schools - everything that we are involved with living in an urban area, the census will help dictate and guide those programs in the future," he said.

Invitations to participate in the 2020 census are going out by mail this month, and there's a new push to get folks to fill out their form online. One-third of people living in villages and reservations lack internet access, but Waters said people can also fill out paper forms or complete the census by phone.

More information on the 2020 Census is available here.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO