Counting Indian Country: 2020 Census Hearing Held

Native News Online photo by Levi Rickert

Published February 20, 2018

WASHINGTON – In 2010, the census undercounted the American Indian and Alaska Native population by an estimated five percent. Last Wednesday, tribal witnesses testified on the far-reaching impacts that inaccurate counts have had on tribal communities – including underrepresentation in voting districts and equitable allocation of federal funding.

American Indians and Alaska Natives have historically been undercounted in the decennial census. This is largely due to the rural, remote geographies of many tribal communities, as well as other challenges that inhibit the Census Bureau from reaching an accurate count of Native Americans.

“Census data is critical for our Nation,” said Senator John Hoeven (R – North Dakota), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “Census results are used to draw district lines for the U.S. House of Representatives, state legislatures, and local governments. They determine the distribution of $600 billion in annual federal assistance to states, localities, and tribes. They also direct community decisions affecting schools, housing, transportation, and health care services. All of these functions are dependent on an accurate census. To ensure an accurate count in Indian Country, the Census Bureau must continue to engage in meaningful outreach with tribal communities and find innovative solutions.”

“Undercounting American Indian and Alaska Native people in the 2020 Census could lead to inefficient distribution of federal funding to tribes. Each tribe and tribal community has unique health, housing, education, and economic
development needs,” testified Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians. “Many programs serving tribes are funded based entirely or in part on census or census-derived data.”

“Valid and accurate census data is the bedrock of fair, proportionate representation in our democracy,” Senator Tom Udall (D – New Mexico) said. “An inaccurate census risks underrepresentation for Tribal communities. And an undercount can lead to skewed state, local, and federal voting districts that diminish the voices of those communities.”

Click here for complete testimony and video of the hearing.

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