What the 2010 Census Means to American Indians

By Joe Quetone
Special to News From Indian Country May 2010

The 2010 Census will go on record as being the most proactive census in history.  In an attempt to achieve complete counts in areas historically undercounted, a number of precisely targeted public awareness campaigns are underway.  Even on American Indian reservations it’s been difficult to avoid the 2010 Census message.

As one of those historically undercounted populations, most American Indians are receiving this year’s message loud and clear - be a voice and be counted. Whether or not these individuals so important to America's history act on that message, however, is still to be decided as the census enters into the backstretch of data collection.

As sovereign nations, it's easy for certain tribes to say, “This doesn't concern us.” However, in this day and age, it's nearly impossible to be entirely separate.  Many tribal members depend on census counts in ways they never considered. For instance, the Florida Governor’s Council on Indian Affairs depends on the census for its funding formula so it can provide employment and training programs.  Although the ways in which American Indians are affected by the census, particularly those living on reservations, may vary from state to state, they are affected.

Simply stated, the fact that American Indians pay taxes, just like anyone else, is enough of a reason to make sure a tribe is counted and receives its due share of funding. This year the census will determine how $400 billion of federal funding is used, much of which will go to fund hospitals, build roads and improve schools.

Even if a reservation has its own health center, serious medical cases are often referred to an outside hospital.  Children may attend schools on the reservation but wish to attend a state university after high school. Services created specifically for the benefit of American Indians such as the employment training program, will only succeed if their funding matches the need. And the best way to accurately measure need is through an accurate census count.

The census is currently in its second phase.  Starting May 1, census workers all over the country began visiting people who had not mailed in their census forms. This may seem like old news to some American Indians. In an attempt to shore up the undercount of the 2000 Census, census workers began visiting reservations as early as March.

All census workers carry an official government badge marked with their name and will never ask to enter a house. They may also be carrying an official U.S. Census Bureau shoulder bag. A census worker will visit a home up to three times or until someone is reached.

By law, the Census Bureau cannot share respondents’ answers with anyone, including tribal housing authorities, other federal agencies and law enforcement entities. All Census Bureau employees take the oath of nondisclosure and are sworn for life to protect the confidentiality of the data. The penalty for unlawful disclosure is a fine of up to $250,000 or imprisonment of up to five years, or both.

For more information about the 2010 Census outreach and campaign, visit 2010Census.gov.

Joe Quetone is the executive director
of the Florida Governor’s Council
on Indian Affairs, Inc.