Back to The Forefront
January 25, 2010
Let’s Make Indian Country Count
Let’s Make Indian Country Count

By NCAI President Jefferson Keel

On Jan. 25, the 2010 Census kicks off in the Inupiat Eskimo village of Noorvik, Alaska.

No roads lead to this community, so Census workers will arrive by air, snow machine or dog sled – and they will need to get there early before the ice melts and the residents leave for fishing and hunting season.

It is important to recognize the significance of Noorvik as the first place the census count begins. Our community of American Indians and Alaska Natives is one of the nation’s hardest populations to count, because of language barriers, barriers to travel and transportation to remote and rural communities, and a historic mistrust of government institutions and efforts.

Counting all Alaskans is critical, but it is especially so for Alaska Natives, given the unique, historical relationship between the United States federal government and that community. An accurate count of Alaska Natives means fair access to federal resources and fair representation in state legislatures and the United States Congress.

But equally important, it determines the annual distribution to states and tribes – and our communities and children – of more than $400 billion in federal funds annually over the next 10 years.

This federal money based on census data is used for everything from schools and roads to health care for low-income residents, veterans and senior citizens.

The goal of the 2010 Census is to paint a “Portrait of America.” Because the American Indian and Alaska Native population is relatively small, every Native person who is counted makes a huge difference in getting that portrait right.

We know Indian country faces many hurdles to an accurate Census count. Past Censuses have missed more than 1 in 10 Native people. The Brookings Institution recently found that for every person missed by the Census, the community loses more than $1,000 every year. The future of Indian country will be built on a foundation of reliable and accurate Census data.

As the president of the National Congress of American Indians, I encourage tribal leaders to get the word out to Native communities about how important the Census is to our future generations. I also urge all local leaders across the nation to encourage their community members to participate in Census 2010.

NCAI is working closely with the Census Bureau and other national and local partners to prevail over the challenges of the past to make sure there is an accurate count of all Native peoples.

We know Indian country counts. Let’s make sure its people are accurately counted in the Census.

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