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Alaska Native 90-year-old, Lizzie Chimiugak, the first American counted in the 2020 Census on Tuesday, celebrates with her community. NPR photo

TOKSOOK BAY, Alaska — One day after celebrating her 90th birthday, Lizzie Chimiugak became the first American citizen to formally be counted in the 2020 Census on Tuesday.

Chimiugak, an Alaska Native was counted at her home in Toksook Bay, a remote Alaska Native village, was chosen by the Census Bureau as the first place in the United States to begin the official count that is mandated by the U.S. Constitution to occur every 10 years.

Census statistics are used to determine the number of seats each state holds in the U.S. House of Representatives and inform how billions of dollars in federal funds will be allocated by state, local, and federal lawmakers every year for the next 10 years.

After being counted, Chimiugak participated in a Native village dance ceremony. Villagers listened to a program that included the importance of being counted in the 2020 Census and to discuss climate change, another issue impacting Native Alaskan lives.

Toksook Bay is a village located on Nelson Island along the Bering Sea in southwestern Alaska. Census takers must get a head start in rural, remote areas like Toksook Bay when the ground is frozen and prior to the spring thaw, when residents leave to fish, hunt and seek out warm-weather jobs.

More than half of households on tribal lands across the country have nontraditional addresses where the Census Bureau can’t mail a census form. With no at-home mail delivery and a short window to respond before seasons change, receiving an invitation this way would be nearly impossible for remote Alaska residents.

That is why the Census Bureau worked with Alaska Native leaders to determine the best way to count people living on their lands. In Toksook Bay and other remote areas of Alaska, census takers will visit people at home and will fill out their questionnaires in person.

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Levi Rickert
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Levi "Calm Before the Storm" Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected].