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As Census Wraps Up, Enumerators Push To Count Indigenous People

Smithsonian Institution

Despite many disruptions this year, the 2020 Census put in extra effort to tally hard-to-reach communities, including Indigenous people.

The 2010 Census ended up with a nearly 5% undercount for American Indians and Alaskan Natives.

Now Census officials have aggressively tackled challenges for the 2020 Census. Jessica Imotichey is a Chickasaw Indian who’s with the Census Bureau’s LA Regional Office.  She said they’ve relied on tribal liaisons through the pandemic, litigation, and wildfires.

Credit U.S. Census Bureau
Jessica Imotichey, of the U.S. Census Bureau's regional bureau in Los Angeles.

“We had to be patient when there were areas where there were evacuations or when smoke levels and air quality were not great, and so it was not necessarily to have our enumerators out," Imotichey told KLCC. 

"So that is why we’ve been able to do things like phone enumeration, but also just making sure if a tribe had been evacuated and then they come back, we know when we’re able to go back in.”

Six of nine tribes within Oregon have already surpassed their 2010 self-response rates.

"We never quite know what an undercount is until the end," added Imotichey. "So that’s when we’re able to clear out any duplications, really get a clean scrub of the data. We have been very proactive to of course, avoid and undercount.

"So this is one of the reasons why we actually started the census earlier, then we have in the past. And being in communities and engaging them, including with tribal governments.”

Every individual person not counted means thousands of unspent federal dollars for important services and programs.

Copyright 2020, KLCC.

Brian Bull joined the KLCC News Team in June 2016. In his 25+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional), the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.