Montana Native Vote
On Monday, August 3, the U.S. Census Bureau cut the response period deadline by a full month, from October 31 to September 30, disproportionately affecting the counting of Black, Brown, Indigenous, and immigrant communities. The Bureau’s new deadline has sent Montana tribes and social justice organizations like Montana Native Vote (MNV) into crisis mode, fearing a historic undercount that could curtail funding for tribal programs for years to come.
In response to the new deadline, Montana Native Vote has partnered with the Crow Incident Command Center to set up census drive-through count stations to help members of the Apsaalooke Nation complete the 2020 census. With one less month to get people counted, the Crow Tribe signed a letter of support to allow local Montana Native Vote organizers to establish the stations. Montana Native Vote hired people from within the tribal communities to help facilitate the stations. All people working at the stations have received specialized safety training and supplies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the stations are designed to get people counted in an entirely contactless manner.
“Our Montana tribal nations are in crisis mode reacting to the new deadline amid the COVID-19 pandemic. All of our tribal communities in Montana are coming in under 50% counted and the lowest is at 11%. This is just another political move to silence the people of color in our country. We are so thrilled to be able to assist our tribal communities in getting every person counted. We are sending a message to Washington to let them know that we are still here and we will be counted.” said Marci McLean, Executive Director of Montana Native Vote.
The census determines the allocation of nearly $1.5 trillion in federal funds yearly for essential programs and is used to determine representation in the House of Representatives based on population. If Indigenous people are undercounted, it could mean the loss of as much as $1 BILLION per year nationally in resources that tribes rely on, such as healthcare, schools, roads, and other essential programs and services.
The US Census Bureau estimates that it undercounted Native Americans living on reservations by 4.9% in 2010. The result was a severe misallocation of federal funds that left some tribes drastically underfunded.
Many homes on reservations don’t have city-style addresses and most tribal members living in remote areas lack access to broadband or a computer, making it almost impossible to complete the census online. So census enumerators typically go door-to-door, updating addresses and leaving paper questionnaires, which can be mailed in. COVID-19 changed all of this.
“It’s hard enough to get an accurate count,” McLean said. “Add to it a pandemic, and now a severely compressed timeline for counting everyone in our tribal communities? It’s like a kick in the stomach to Native people when we’re already down. It’s making it so much harder. The result could be disastrous.”
Montana’s Native communities are among the hardest hit by the virus. Although Native Americans account for 6.6% of Montana's population, they comprise 17% of the state’s total COVID-19 cases and 32% of deaths from COVID-19, according to a July 24 Department of Public Health and Human Services report. The pandemic sent many tribal communities into lockdown. As a result, all census activities were initially halted in Montana’s tribal nations; they were resumed for some nations in July. McLean and her colleagues hope the drive-through census stations will be the solution.
“We’re thrilled by our collaboration with the Crow Nation. With safety being our number one priority, we hope to set up as many census drive-throughs as we can throughout the state. We want to get everyone counted in all of our tribal communities,” said McLean. “We are in the process of getting letters of support from the rest of Montana’s tribes and hiring local organizers to run the stations. We will be establishing drive-through locations and begin COVID-19 safety training as soon as the hiring process is complete.” We plan to use the same concept for our Get out the Vote efforts for the general election.
The census drive-through stations are already open in the Crow Nation and will be open through the September 30 census deadline. For more information about the drive-through stations, call Montana Native Vote at (406) 869-1938 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Montana Native Vote
Montana Native Vote is Montana’s only statewide Native led organization that inspires Indigenous action in Montana by educating and energizing voters, amplifying Indigenous voices, building power in our communities, and encouraging leaders to run for public office at county, state, and national levels.
To learn more about the great work being accomplished in Native communities across Montana, please visit www.mtnativevote.org, email email@example.com, follow Montana Native Vote on Facebook or call (406) 869-1938.