An inaccurate census has major implications for Indian Country
Indigenous people are frequently undercounted, undermining political power and representation.
The first place the U.S. Census Bureau surveyed for the 2020 census was Tooksook Bay, Alaska, part of the agency’s long tradition of conducting early counts in the state’s remote villages. In March, with about half of rural Alaska still uncounted, enumerators were pulled out of the field because of COVID-19, as the bureau shifted its schedule to accommodate the barriers the pandemic presented. Then, in August, the Census Bureau quietly released an updated deadline for the census, moving it from Oct. 31 to Sept. 30, eliminating four weeks of critical outreach. September is moose-hunting season in Alaska, so people are generally harder to reach; it’s also the beginning of storm season, which means power outages and delays for mail delivery by plane. As a result, despite the early start, Alaskans in general and Native Alaskans in particular are still lagging behind the national average in their response rates.
“In terms of wrapping up the census, there’s not a worst time for rural Alaska and Alaska Natives,” Nicole Borromeo (McGrath Native Village), executive vice president and general counsel of the Alaska Federation of Natives. This is the first time the census has been available to complete online or by phone in Alaska, a necessary option given the pandemic, but the process has run into issues of internet and phone connectivity. Meanwhile, many Alaska Natives are still waiting for someone to show up at their door, questionnaire in hand, though Borromeo has warned, “A numerator in rural Alaska is not coming. Do not wait a second longer.”