By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Earlier in August, the Census Bureau reversed an April decision that would have extended field data collection for the 2020 Census to the end of October – instead opting for a deadline of Sept. 30 in a decision that has many in Indian Country worried about the impacts.
In announcing the new deadline, U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham said in a statement on Aug. 3, “The Census Bureau’s new plan reflects our continued commitment to conduct a complete count, provide accurate apportionment data, and protect the health and safety of the public and our workforce. A robust field data collection operation will ensure we receive responses from households that have not yet self-reported.”
He added, “We will improve the speed of our count without sacrificing completeness. As part of our revised plan, we will conduct additional training sessions and provide awards to enumerators in recognition of those who maximize hours worked. We will also keep phone and tablet computer devices for enumeration in use for the maximum time possible.”
When asked if the deadline change will affect the count among the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), Tammy Jackson, 2020 Census Cherokee Complete Count Committee chairperson, said, “It probably will. Before the pandemic, our Complete Count Committee had set a goal of getting 80 percent of our residents to participate. Now, we have no idea what the results will be at the end of September. Losing a month will greatly impact all of Indian Country.”
She said overall, EBCI tribal members are responding to the Census and at a rate higher than before. “Response to the Census has been slow but good. With the shutdown of the Census Bureau and the Tribe, due to COVID-19, the Census had been the last thing on everyone’s mind, which is understandable. But, in the midst of all of this, our 2020 Census Cherokee Complete Count Committee continued to work to get information on the Census to tribal members through various media and events. Today, we have beat the 2010 percentage for self-response (12.6 percent) and are currently at 30.8 percent.”
Jackson said several factors have helped in this year’s larger self-response. “This is due to our education/information programs and a new program hosted by WNC Communities and Dogwood Health Trust. Our Cherokee Community Clubs are partnering with them and working to assist community members with completing the Census and with each person counted they receive funding for their community club. Participation in the 2020 Census really boils down to education and trust. You can do all types of media but it’s that personal contact with a tribal member who shares how important the Census is, and how it affects various tribal, education, and health programs for the next ten years, that makes the difference.”
Others in Indian Country are also worried that the new deadline will affect a proper count.
In a joint statement issued two days after the Bureau’s announcement, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), and the National Urban Indian Family Coalition (NUIFC) outlined its objections to the new deadline.
“Ending the 2020 Census count early during a global pandemic is not only bad policy, it puts at risk the ability of our communities to access social safety nets and other benefits that a complete Census count affords Americans wherever they are,” the organizations’ statement read. “Our tribal nations and tribal communities have been ravaged by COVID-19, and an extension of the Census enumeration period was a humane lifeline during an unprecedented global health catastrophe that provided critically-needed additional time to tribal nations to ensure that all of everyone in their communities are counted.”
The statement continued, “For millions of American Indians and Alaska Natives, whether they live on rural reservations or in America’s large cities, an inaccurate Census count will decimate our ability to advocate for necessary services for our most vulnerable communities.”
A total of 20 U.S. Senators, all Democrats, sent a letter to the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Dept. of Commerce on Monday, Aug. 17 urging a deadline extension.
Among the Senators who signed the letter were Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA), and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), SCIA member and former chairperson.
“American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian leaders have spent months coordinating with the Census Bureau to prepare their communities for the 2020 count and to meet the Bureau’s October 31 deadline,” the letter states. “Their herculean effort to get out the count even during a pandemic should not be discounted or cut short. Failure to get a complete and accurate count of these community populations will have long term and devastating impacts – from redistricting data, to federal funding, to congressional representation. A fair and accurate census is critical to Native communities’ continued and future prosperity.”
If you are an EBCI tribal member and need assistance with the 2020 Census, contact Tammy Jackson 359-6934 or Zena Rattler (Cherokee County and Snowbird) 735-4594.