Every ten years the federal government requires a census count of every person living in the United States. Counting so many people is a daunting task and this year the coronavirus pandemic is making it especially tough to count American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Jessica Imotichey, Los Angeles Region Partnership Coordinator for the U.S. Census talks about concerns of not having an accurate count in Indian Country.
"We have had some challenges due to the coronavirus to COVID-19. So that did put a hold on a lot of our operation. That was particularly difficult in Alaska where you already have remote villages."
"Well, because of coronavirus, many villages closed and they also limited travel to those villages, therefore it did not allow us to move forward with that operation."
"A large part of Alaska is also what we call update leave, where we update an address physically as we're on location before that housing unit. And we leave a census packet. Both of these are different than the standard operation, which is called self response, meaning that we mail your packet of information directly to your home address."
"It's a hard task any time you do the census count but when you're in this global pandemic, it just increases the issue tenfold."
"I think our highest, our state with the highest self response specifically has been in Washington.
"We do have a self response mapping tool on our 2020 census.gov website. And so those are updated daily and each state and tribe can check their response rates daily using that tool."
"We are working through that and now we have all of our ACOs, our area census offices, opened in each one of our states and so we are in full operations now moving forward."
"If you go to 2020census.gov, it will bring you to the website, there is a search tool in there, and you can put self-response mapper and click search, and it will bring up the mapping tool."
"You can look by a specific tribe, tribal reservation area. You can look by a county or a city, and then you can, of course, look by a state. It will give you our overall national self response rate, which I think is around 61, 62 percent right now and then you can compare what your state looks like to that national average or what your city or county or tribal reservation area looks like as compared to that national average."
"If it's a tribe that is a self response, categorized and numeration, meaning that they have largely physical mailing addresses on their reservation, people receive their mail at home, then they were a part of our initial self response rollout. So folks got their packet right away. They were able to self respond as soon as they got their packet and their census ID.
However, if they were a tribe that were in the update, leave category, many of those haven't gotten their information. So they haven't had a chance to be able to get their packet, get their census ID and go online and self respond. And so that delay causes a delay and those self response numbers."
"The large majority of tribal reservations across the nation typically fall under what we call update leave. That was an operation that was put on hold due to the COVID pandemic and that was to protect the safety of the tribal reservation, tribal members, as states shut down."
"We were also concerned about the safety of our staff, sending our staff out, you know, so health and safety has been first and foremost as a part of this new environment that we're in trying to complete the census. We're very conscious of that."
"With update leave, there isn't a numerator or a census taker that actually comes onto the reservation, physically leaves the packet of information at your door and updates your housing address on the spot and our mapping system. That is typically reserved for those reservations who are largely P.O. box based, typically in very rural areas where they're not able to receive their mail directly at their home."
"There are three ways to complete the census. So you can go online, that's probably the most popular and easiest way, given the fact if you have good broadband or if you're able to go to an area with good cell signal."
"The other way, which is I think very common for those areas where there may not be good broadband or good wifi, and that is using our census call centers. So we provide you with a one 800 number you can call initially during COVID. Typically we have less than a 30 second wait time in those call centers to be able to complete your census form by phone."
"And then of course, the third way is the traditional way, the paper form. Ultimately everyone will receive a paper form."
"You know, folks are at home now or have been at home and so what better time to use that as an opportunity to go ahead and complete your census form?"
"However, for those folks that are in the update leave category, we have asked them to wait until they do receive that admin, because that census ID number is very important. It helps us match that person and that housing unit to a physical address, to a physical location."
"It's important to think about the fact that the census is two things. It's a population update count and it's a housing count. And so we want to be able to capture both of those things accurately. The census mission is to count everyone once and only once and in the right place. And so that in the right place part is really important too."
"As you're capturing each individual in the home, you can list their respective tribe. Each individual can list up to six tribes for themselves. So for example, I affiliate with one tribe, Chikasaw Nation. My sister is three tribes, she's enrolled in one tribe but she is of three tribes. If we lived in the same household, I could capture my tribe, Chikasaw Nation, she could capture her three tribes, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Creek, and it doesn't preclude you from being able to get all of that information."
"I like to, you know, advise folks to think about where do you receive your services, typically that is where you're enrolled. And so that would be your primary tribe."
"It is important that the person who is listed as head of household is the Native person, is the American Indian."
"One other component to that ... do you rent or own your home? You know, are you the person that pays the mortgage and or the lease? So if you say no to that, and you list the non-Native person, it defaults that person back to person number one. So that's a little nuance that we weren't initially aware of as we were starting to look at rolling out our online self-responsible."
"If you want to make sure that that home is captured as a Native American home the person who pays the rent would also have to correlate with the person who's head of household, and that would have to be the Native person."
"Whether you have an assisted living facility, a substance abuse treatment center, a nurse, a skilled nursing facility, a federal tribal detention center, any of those things are considered group quarters. And so we are now reaching out to you."
Also in the newscast, Jourdan Bennett-Begaye has the latest numbers of positive COVID-19 tests in Indian Country.
The anchor and executive producer of the newscast is Patty Talahongva.