U.S. Census 2020: Social Distance Powwow

Native Sun News Today: Tribes jump on census bandwagon

DENVER, Colorado – The Choctaw Nation missed out on many millions of dollars in federal aid for COVID-19 relief and other programs due to an undercount of tribal members in the U.S. 2010 Census, leadership said during a forum July 21 designed to encourage Indian Country participation in the 2020 edition of the survey.

Speaking of “painful illustrations of what happens when a census doesn’t go well for a tribe,” Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton’s executive communications officer said, “We’ve lost out on tens and tens of millions of dollars in state and federal aid, which would have come to us if the census count would have been more accurate.

“That gave us an excellent impetus and a reason for doing the best we could to get the 2020 Census organized on our end,” he said.

Like some of the other 574 federally recognized tribal governments, the Choctaw Nation is taking part in what the U.S. Census Bureau calls “count committees,” in which representatives of different government jurisdictions partner to promote citizen participation.

In the Choctaw case, this includes a tribal representative providing county and city officials information showing how much funding they failed to receive due to the fact that only 20 percent of the tribal nation’s 226,000 citizens were counted as members in the previous decennial census.

The Choctaw government conducted its own census for years before states got involved, showing that its members live in the 11,000 square miles and 11 counties under its jurisdiction in eastern Oklahoma, as well as elsewhere in all 50 U.S. states.

Choctaw Nation: 2020 Census We Count

The federal CARES Act money to counter the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic provided the Choctaw Nation with $136 million that it is now administering, but another $100 million would have been available “if the 2010 census had been a more complete count for us,” the tribal government said.

Seeking to boost he 2020 headcount, the Choctaw Nation was prepared to spend $1 million on advertising the census when the survey launched in March, but the census-taking stalled out in three days, faced with the overwhelming demands of immediate pandemic protocols.

The tribal government only now is beginning to sponsor billboards, on-air, online, and on-the-ground events toward that end. It is mailing members asking them to complete a questionnaire about their census participation.

Enticement for answering is a top prize of $20,020 and 10 lesser rewards of $2,020 each. If an answer to the questionnaire shows the respondent didn’t take part in the census, the tribe sends another mailing to explain the importance of doing so.

The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians is another tribal nation with proactive census outreach. Chair Jamie Azure, who took part in the forum sponsored by the Denver Regional Office of the U.S. Census Bureau, lamented that his enrollment of more than 32,000 members also was undercounted in the 2010 survey.

Part of the reason is mistrust of federal and state agents engendered by “historical trauma” from colonization, he said. “This is the new age for sovereign nations; the numbers are just so important,” he proclaimed.


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Contact Talli Nauman at talli.naman@gmail.com

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