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Susan Balbas

Cherokee and Yaqui

The 2020 Census count is underway. Native people everywhere are deploying our ancestral knowledge and gathering in ways we have known across millennia. The census is another way we must come together to appeal to evolved systems of community care, wellness, and education.

Indigenous peoples have historically been undercounted in America’s consciousness. The more we lead and show up now for the census, the more rightful resources our tribes and urban Native communities will receive.

That’s because the census is ultimately about two things: funding and representation. Every 10 years, the census determines how many people live in a community or rural area—and that information, in turn, determines how much funding is allocated for things like schools, hospitals, roads, and affordable housing. It also determines how many representatives each state has in Washington, D.C. 

The census is an opportunity for Indigenous visibility and systemic transformation. Over $1 billion in annual funding goes to Indian Country. We must complete the census now for our communities, our elders, and our young people.

At Na’ah Illlahee Fund, we support and promote the leadership of Indigenous women and girls in the ongoing regeneration of Indigenous communities. We recognize the 2020 Census as a crucial way to ensure Native people are represented. Our communities here in the United States face extraordinary challenges of violence and erasure. With our own leadership and self-sufficiency, with our roots in our identities and culture, and with the resources we deserve, we will meet those challenges.

We’re calling on all our relations, tribal citizens, and tribal nations to show up—complete the census.

Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to complete the census form. You can do it online, over the phone, or by mail. This is particularly important when people are staying at home to do their part for public health in the time of coronavirus.

Now, more than ever, we are reminded just how critical it is that our communities have the resources they need as we battle a public health crisis that is straining all of our systems.

In Indian Country, there are some important things we must consider to be counted as American Indian or Alaskan Native. Here’s what you need to know: 

- First, self-identifying as Native is up to you and no proof is necessary. It’s crucial to only choose the “American Indian or Alaska Native” race box on your census form and make sure “Person 1” is a Native person to count your household as a Native household.

- Confirm with your tribal leadership how your tribe will be listed and counted, including the exact spelling.

- For two-spirit, gender queer, and non-binary relatives, we see you and recognize how the census perpetuates further erasure. Though the form is limiting, we recommend you choose one of the sex options listed, male or female, in order to be counted. What you list on the census does not have to match with how you answer questions elsewhere. We will be lobbying to transform this on future census forms to be more accurate and respectful of all our community members.

- Count all of your immediate family members who live with you and even those who might not be counted elsewhere. Show community care by including students living in dorms, incarcerated family members, those experiencing homelessness, children in foster care, and elders living in assisted living facilities on your household count.

The 2020 Census is a gathering tool. It’s an opportunity for us to come together, to be visible.

Because we are still here.

Completing the census takes just a short time. We ask that you spread the word about the opportunity, and encourage participation and leadership in your community.

We are in uncertain times, times our ancestors knew well. Still, they showed up and held on to their ways of knowing and values so that we can be here today.

We are stronger together. Natives count and it’s our obligation to the next generation to strengthen our leadership by completing the 2020 Census to get the funding and representation our communities deserve.

Susan Balbas is co-founder and executive director of Na’ah Illahee Fund.