Time to take action: Empower your community to participate in the 2020 Census

Kevin Allis, CEO, National Congress of American Indians (Courtesy NCAI)

Kevin Allis

As the 2020 Census has started, now more than ever, it is essential that we continue to urge tribal communities to participate and be counted.

Kevin Allis

Forest County Potawatomi Community

As I look out my window, the world outside seems a lot different. The usual hustle and bustle of downtown Washington, D.C. can typically be heard throughout the Embassy of Tribal Nations. Cars honk, emergency sirens blare, and people talk and laugh animatedly as they traverse the sidewalks of P Street. But this week, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, even rush hour is surprisingly quiet. Our office also has now transferred entirely to telework.

Yet our mission continues. Even in times of uncertainty, Indian Country depends on all of us in Washington, D.C., and especially you out in tribal communities – to push our important work forward. As the 2020 Census has started, now more than ever, it is essential that we continue to urge tribal communities to participate and be counted. Our future depends on it.

While we all slowly come to terms with physical distancing and other recommendations for folks to stay at home and avoid crowds, it leaves many wondering just how we can ensure a full and complete count of Indian Country in the 2020 Census. Well, here’s some background on what we know:

· The census is a powerful information source that significantly influences U.S. policy. In fact, it helps support the foundation of American democracy by contributing to the determination of representative seats in Congress and redistricting of voting geographies. But it also contributes to the federal formulas that allocate nearly $1 billion to Indian Country. That’s a big deal.

· Nationally, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that American Indians and Alaska Natives living on reservations or in Native villages were undercounted by approximately 4.9 percent in the 2010 Census – which is more than double the undercount rate of the next closest population group. This is unacceptable, and must be improved this time around.

· NCAI and its partners have been working hard this past year to provide information, prepare resources, and distribute mini grants to tribal nations, tribal complete count committees, tribal organizations, census coalitions, and others through our Indian Country Counts campaign. We want to inform, engage, and support efforts to make sure tribal communities are fully counted.

· The 2020 Census began its early enumeration period on March 12, 2020 and mailings have been going out over the past few weeks inviting everyone to respond to the 2020 Census. The early self-response period has currently been extended until May 7, which is just about five weeks away. It’s time to take action.

Our partners on the ground are armed with the information and support they need to host community events to get folks excited and ready to fill out the census – but now everyone has had to change gears and adapt to the new reality the COVID-19 pandemic has created. Luckily, there are plenty of things we can still do under the circumstances to get out the count.

For Census Advocates – Did you have a community event or tabling opportunity canceled? Think outside of the box and use that time to phone bank, text bank, or even spend time creating a presence online – social media is a great way to reach people!

For Those Filling Out the Census – With many people indoors right now, it is the perfect time to fill out the census for your household. You can complete the census online, by phone, or even by mail without leaving the comfort of your own home. And remember: every American Indian or Alaska Native household needs to count everyone in that household when filling out the census – that means every elder, veteran, child (even newborns!), and relative living under your roof – they all count. And they all make a difference.

While the circumstances in which we find ourselves are unfortunate, I can’t stress enough how important it is that each one of us does our part to help move Indian Country forward. For too long, Indian Country has been undercounted, underfunded, and underrepresented. This is our chance to be visible. And while many of us may be isolated at home, know you are not alone. Millions of people from more than 600 tribal nations will proudly stand together to show the world that Indian Country Counts – one person and one census form at a time. 

Kevin Allis, CEO, National Congress of American Indians