‘A simple way to ensure our communities are considered’

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SEATTLE – As the mail-in participation phase of the 2010 Census came to a close, participation rates were up on at least nine American Indian reservations in Washington state, according to an online census participation mapping site.

In other areas, not so much.

The mail-in participation phase of the census ended April 19, and on May 1 census workers began going door-to-door in an effort to count the households that did not mail back their forms. They also will verify that housing units indicated as “unoccupied” by the postal service or others are indeed unoccupied and vacant.

As the mail-in participation phase ended, the national participation rate was 72 percent, the same as in 2000. Washington state’s mail-in participation rate reached 74 percent, topping its 2000 rate of 72 percent.

Reservations showing increases in participation at the close of the mail-in phase: Hoh, 46 percent, up from 26 percent in 2000; Lummi, 63 percent, up from 60 percent; Port Madison, 76 percent, up from 74 percent; Puyallup, 74 percent, up from 68 percent; Quinault, 40 percent, up from 28 percent; Swinomish, 77 percent, up from 65 percent; Shoalwater Bay, 48 percent, up from 45 percent; Tulalip, 70 percent, up from 66 percent; and Yakama, 67 percent, up from 61 percent.

Participation rates on eight reservations declined: Chehalis, 60 percent, down from 71 percent in 2000; Kalispel, 34 percent, down from 49 percent; Lower Elwha Klallam, 50 percent, down from 70 percent; Muckleshoot, 62 percent, down from 76 percent; Nisqually, 59 percent, down from 72 percent; Port Gamble, 49 percent, down from 75 percent; Squaxin Island, 55 percent, down from 70 percent; Quileute, 28 percent, down from 49 percent.

Census officials hoped to boost census mail-in rates to reduce the cost of sending enumerators to homes that didn’t respond – a cost of $57 per household. According to the Census Bureau, the cost of sending enumerators door to door could reach $1.5 billion.

American Indian/Alaska Native officials hope to bolster overall census participation to give Native people and their communities a stronger voice.

The Census Bureau partnered with the 39th annual Spring Powwow April 10 at the University of Washington. Native nations from Alaska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Minnesota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Washington participated in a rally to urge Native people to mail back their completed census forms. The three-day powwow included a Census Rally and Drum Circle, dance and drum competitions, and the Miss First Nations Pageant.

Velma Cayou-Lockrem, Census representative on the Swinomish reservation, advised Swinomish citizens of the importance of identifying themselves as Swinomish in the census.

“It’s important to know, if you mark any other race, this will take funding away from our tribe and programs,” she wrote in the Swinomish magazine, Kee Yoks. “Send in your census information. It won’t come around again until 2020.”

Dr. Joely Proudfit, a citizen of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians and associate professor of public administration at California State University, San Bernardino, said the census benefits the 60 to 64 percent of the American Indian/Alaska Native population not directly served by tribal governments because they live in urban areas, off reservations or outside tribal jurisdictional boundaries.

“By participating in the 2010 census, Native people can use their voices to tell who they are and what their communities need, from health care facilities and nursing homes to new roads, new schools and better housing options,” Proudfit wrote on NativeBiz.com. “This is one simple way to ensure that their local communities are considered when federal government officials are determining how to allocate nearly $400 billion worth of spending.

“Researchers, from historians and journalists to students, rely on such data to better understand and convey information about the Indian community to the non-Indian community, with the hope to further communicate important information and break down barriers of ignorance.”

The census is mandated every 10 years by the U.S. Constitution; the results are used to allocate congressional seats, electoral votes and government program funding. The 2010 Census is the 23rd since the United States was established.

Here’s what the census does:

  • Determines apportionment of congressional seats. Washington state is expected to gain an additional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives (Oregon could lose one) if population estimates are borne out by the census. In other words, if Washington has more residents, it needs more representation in Washington, D.C.
  • Defines state legislative districts.

  • Helps direct the distribution of $400 billion in federal funds to local, state and tribal governments each year. Census data affects how funding is allocated to communities for education, neighborhood improvements, public health, transportation and more.

  • Helps elected officials decide what community services to provide, such as where to locate job training centers, where to build new roads and schools, and where to provide services for seniors.

Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash. Contact him at rmwalker@rockisland.com.

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