Every 10 years, everyone residing in the 50 United States, Puer- to Rico, and the Island Areas must be counted as mandated by the U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 2). The first census was done in 1790 and has been done every ten years since then. However, American Indian and Alaska Natives were not counted in the first six censuses from 1790 through 1850. Since that time, they have been at risk for undercounts for various reasons, including: miscategorizing mixed-race American Indians, language barriers, resistance to federal government activities, and lack of culturally knowledgeable census takers.
Up until 1970, it was the census enumerators who deter- mined a respondent’s race, and that’s when the Self-Determination Act became law, recognizing that our sovereignty allows us to determine our own tribal membership and enrollment standards.
The Census Bureau has estimated that American Indians and Alaska Natives who are living on reservations or in Native villages have been undercounted by 4.9 percent nationally in the 2019 census according to Indian Country Counts. That is more than double the undercounted rate of the next-closest population group.
Although the census does not officially begin until 2020, the Mille Lacs Band has been taking a leading role in Minnesota to ensure that Indian Country counts.
Shelly Diaz is the Urban Liaison and Project Coordinator for the Chief Executive’s Office. Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin directed her to take the lead in the census efforts, both for the Mille Lacs Band and to partner with the other 10 sovereign na- tions in Minnesota to develop a plan and partnership to ensure that we are all counted.
The Minnesota Tribal Coalition for the U.S. census is comprised of the sovereign nations in Minnesota working together to develop a plan to educate our communities about the U.S. census and to increase participation in completing the surveys. Shelly has taken on the role as the Tribal Coordinator for a Tribal Hub; this is being established to support the tribal nations in Minnesota in their efforts to Get Out the Count.
Why does it matter?
The year 2020 will be an important year. It will be critical for all tribal citizens to be counted for the upcoming state redistricting processes — that means the number of congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state gets are determined by census numbers. With 2020 being an important election year, the Indian Country count can be a major influencer in that determination. That, factored in with the Native Vote initiatives, has the potential to significantly impact the election.
Being counted as Native will directly benefit you, your family, and your tribal community. Each year, an estimated $880 billion in federal funding is distributed for schools, roads, and other public services, according to George Washington University — GW Institute of Public Policy. Of that, it is estimated that $1 Billion is dedicated to Indian Country. The allocation of those funds is directly related to the census numbers. Checking the box as American Indian or Alaska Native and filling in your tribal affiliation can directly impact your tribe for programs such as Head Start and tribal housing.
Check the box
One of the most important ways for a person to be counted as American Indian or Alaska Native is by checking the box that says "American Indian or Alaska Native" on the Census form. The box is under the question about the person's race.
Saying that you're American Indian or Alaska Native on the 2020 Census form is a matter of self-identification. No proof is required. No one will ask you to show a tribal enrollment card or a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB).
There is an option to check more than one box on the race question. This option to check off multiple races means that an American Indian and Alaska Native person can identify as both Native and as a member of another race, such as white, Black, or Asian.
If a person checks off only the American Indian or Alaska Native box on the form, the person counts as American Indian or Alaska Native "Alone," meaning that this is the person's only race. If the person checks the American Indian or Alaska Native box and one or more boxes for another race, the person is included in the count as American Indian or Alaska Native "Alone or in Combination" (with one or more other races).
The Census Bureau does publish information on the "Alone or in Combination" population. However, according to Indian Country Counts, many standard profiles of the population lump those who check American Indian or Alaska Native and another racial group into a single category as "Two or More Races," along with all non-Indians who also report multiple races, meaning you are not counted as an American Indian on many standard profiles.
It is important to note, the only way to ensure that you are included in all the counts as American Indian or Alaska Native is to just check one box on the form.
Census answers are private and confidential. By law, the Census Bureau cannot share an individual's or a household's answers with any person or agency; e.g., not the IRS, not law enforcement entities, nor tribal housing authorities, and not even within your own tribe. We encourage all Mille Lacs Band members to answer all questions honestly.
More information will be provided in the coming weeks and months before the count takes place. Each and every person counts and Indian Country Counts.