September 14th, 2020 Last Updated on: September 14th, 2020
Native Americans are notoriously undercounted in the U.S. census. By the looks of it, the 2020 census isn't the step forward we were hoping for when it comes to ensuring our Native American communities are accurately counted for. From language barriers, wildfires, COVID-19, and geographic isolation, Native Americans face more obstacles to be rightfully counted this year.
The good news?
It's not too late.
The Trump administration has officially announced the deadline for submitting the 2020 census has been shifted from October 31 to September 30. This new deadline dramatically increases the risk of inaccuracy within Native American communities.
According to William Miller, a member of the Oregon Complete Count Committee on Indian Affairs, “Moving the deadline sooner only continues to disenfranchise our communities from being counted. These efforts will only continue to increase the risk of an undercount, which will require our communities having to wait until 2030 to be accurately accounted for.”
With the new deadline fast approaching, Native American communities have joined several civil rights groups to file a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration to try and push back the deadline. A judge is scheduled to hear the case on September 17 to determine if the deadline should be extended to October 31.
How COVID-19 is Complicating the Native American Census Count
States and cities nationwide are spending millions of dollars, encouraging citizens to participate in the 2020 census. But are they doing enough in the Native American communities? Counting the residents on Native lands has always proven to be a challenge, but the pandemic brought devastating new setbacks. As the nation still recovers from the pandemic, curfews, lockdowns, and lack of transportation meant census workers couldn't enter rural and remote Navajo communities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put thousands of Native Americans in jeopardy. Indian Country has been plagued with disproportionate numbers of COVID-19 infections. Along with a lack of proper medical care and attention, the Native American population finds that COVID-19 is making it even more challenging to complete the 2020 census accurately.
Social distancing restrictions, lack of communication, the fear of contracting COVID-19, and unruly wildfires have deferred many Native Americans from submitting their 2020 census. Completing the census was already a challenge for these communities. Many of them don't have internet access. The lack of internet access means they can't fill out the questionnaire online. Tribes usually rely on filling out physical census packets that are hand-delivered to their hometown. Official census workers were only given the green light to hand out packets in rural areas in June.
Significant Financial Losses For Tribes With Low Response Rates
One of the most important reasons why it's so critical to count the Native American population in the 2020 census is to receive adequate government funding. An undercount will likely lead to a devastating impact on Indian Country.
There are millions of federal dollars on the line here. Impoverished Native American communities are in dire need of government assistance. Did you know that 90% of young Native American children attend Title 1 public schools in New Mexico? The program assists students in low-income housing. One of the government's determining factors to judge how much federal money will flow into these schools is, of course, the census. The count also helps determine how much federal funding will be given to housing programs like Section 8 and healthcare programs like the Indian Health Services, which provides healthcare to 2.2 million Native Americans.
Tribe leaders are scrambling to do all they can to avoid being underrepresented – yet again. In the U.S., there are over 300 Native American reservations; however, almost all of them are trailing behind the rest of the country.
Many reservations are falling under the poverty line. For example, the Crow Reservation in Montana currently has a poverty rate of 25%, that's double than the rest of the country. Crow is home to around 8,000 tribal members. Still, as many of the elders only speak the Crow language and census officials cannot travel to native the rural lands to deliver packages, many of these tribal members simply won't be counted. Meaning Montana will not receive critical funding from the government to help these families. The Crow Reservation is just one example. Unfortunately, dozens of other reservations face the same grim consequence of not being adequately represented in the current census.
Native American Representation in Congress
The data collected by the Census Bureau is also used to determine representation in Congress. As of now, two states with a high Native American population, Arizona and Montana, could earn another seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. An undercount of Indian Tribes could mean states miss the required threshold, meaning they'll only be allotted a single voice in the House of Representatives.
For the 2020 census, 22 tribes are being tracked by the state Indian Affairs Department. There have been mixed reactions by officials pushing community members to complete the census. Let's take a look at where a few currently stand. New Mexico tribes have gone up from 23% in late July to nearly 56%, which is a massive accomplishment. The Jicarilla Apache tribe has the lowest response rate, at 14%. As of September 1, a mere 24% of residents of Montana tribal communities have been counted. For reference, the national rate is 85%.
For Native Americans, filling out the census during a ‘normal' time proved to be a challenge. Native Americans can't afford to wait until 2030 to be accurately represented in this country. It's not too late to complete the 2020 census. Click the link below to be redirected to the official website of the U.S. Census 2020.
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