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National Native American organizations will collaborate with Indian Country Today in a broadcast roundtable on Mar. 9 on the Pala Indian Reservation to publicize the importance of American Indian and Alaska Native participation in the 2020 census.

Indian Country Today Editor, Mark Trahant will be leading the roundtable as a moderator. Broadcast guests include partnership coordinator Jessica Imotichey from the U.S. Bureau of Census, vice president of external affairs Lycia Maddocks from the National Congress of American Indians, Washington editor Jourdan Bennett-Begaye from Indian Country Today, and tribal affairs specialist Kayla Olvera Hilario from the California Complete Count-Census 2020.

The three National Native American organizations will have a roundtable conversation in an hour-long broadcast at the Pala Indian Reservation to discuss challenges and bolster participation regarding the Native American census.

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The challenges

True numbers are misrepresented for Native Americans and Alaskan Natives during the once-a-decade census count. These hard-to-count populations face multiple barriers that lead to an undercount of Native American populations.

The idea of counting everyone living in the United States so that each person counts equally, it's really just an exciting idea, said Sandy Close, the founder of Ethnic Media Services. “If we could just make it work.”

The 27.7 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native population, alone or in combination with other races, in California ranks the state third when it comes to living in hard-to-count tracts, according to data by Indian Country Counts.

“It’s extremely important to take every opportunity to raise awareness and open up conversation,” Close said. She explains the distrust amongst Native Americans, “there is a lot of history of distrust, anger and a sense of indifference to the census among Native Americans.”

In 1879, the census opened up to Native Americans, but Close believes many still have the mentality of, “If the census never cared about them, why should they care about the census?”

“There is such a need for conversation customized to Native American communities and this [live broadcast] is one way to do it,” said Close.

Breaking down the challenges

In the last census cycle, an estimated one in seven Native Americans living on tribal lands were not counted, according to an audit by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Barriers such as language, technology and geography are reasons Native households are at-risk for undercounts or misrepresented numbers in the 2020 Native count stated on the American Indian Count’s website.

The 2020 census Navajo Nation Tribal Consultation final report mentions elders, especially those living in rural areas may not understand or trust in-person surveyors and Natives from different communities, disrupting the true count.

The Census Bureau also faces unique challenges in enumerating tribal populations, in fear that their residential information will not remain confidential, stated in the report. For example, a respondent from a household may not disclose the true number of residents in their household because they may be housing multiple families and don’t want to be reported for overcrowding by the housing authority.

“Despite these challenges, the Census Bureau and the Navajo Nation must work together to ensure all Navajo citizens are counted in the 2020 Census,” stated in the final report.

Census invitations will be sent via mail or in person to households starting mid-March, where households can respond by mail, phone or online based on their area. Throughout the year, the U.S. Census Bureau will make efforts to spread the invitations.

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