Tribes discuss importance of accurate Census count for 2020

Christopher Lomahquahu
Gila River Indian News



During a recent panel discussion on July 21, representatives from tribal communities and the Census Bureau discussed the initiatives to encourage participation in the upcoming 2020 Census.


Tribal leaders joined via phone conference to outline their Census programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cathy Lacy, U.S. Census Bureau Regional Director, said educating tribal members about the importance of being counted during the upcoming census count is critical. 


“When we talk about the census, it comes down to power, knowledge, and money as we look at the situation with COVID-19 and the other challenges on tribal nations,” said Lacy. She said all three categories are important for tribal members and how federal dollars going back to tribal nations is crucial and are based on the census count. 

“They should understand how they are all affected and why being accurately counted is important for services like public safety, housing and public transportation,” said Lacy.  


She said all across the country, tribes are utilizing all aspects of communication to reach tribal members, such as the internet, phone calls and paper surveys to contact their tribal members about the census through outreach campaigns. 


Similarly, in the Gila River Indian Community, 2020 Census questionnaires have been mailed to Community members, including options for them to submit their responses online or by phone.


According to, the Census Bureau has been working closely with tribal governments to change the trend groups who have had a history of being undercounted during the census.  “As part of this effort, census takers are set to go household to household and drop off census materials at front doors in tribal communities,” according to 


Jamie Azure, Chairman for the Turtle Mountain Band Chippewa Indians attributed low census counts to the historical trauma of the government and his tribe. 

“It stems back to the historical trauma and the history of distrust against the federal government, but it also comes down to education about the census,” said Azure. 

The census is especially important for tribal communities with three to four generations living in the same household.


Azure said his tribe was severely undercounted in the 2020 census, which had an impact on the amount of distribution of CARES Act funds to his tribe this year. Azure added the numbers are critical especially for a tribe with 32,000 enrolled members and 15,000 of them residing on the reservation, which creates a condensed population with multiple needs.


Like Azure, Bradley Gernand, Senior Communications Specialist for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, said the Choctaw Nation was also undercounted. 

“The Choctaw Nation in 2010 was undercounted. Of around 226,000 members scattered across 50 states, only 20 percent of our members were counted as being part of the Choctaw Nation. It had severe consequences on our federal funding,” said Gernand. 


He said the outcome of the 2010 Census was an impetus for a more accurate count in 2020. Gernand said the COVID-19 pandemic has not stymied the Choctaw Nation’s drive to support internal efforts for the 2020 Census. 


“The tribe went ahead to fund a promotion campaign, because the tribal elders feel it’s important to allocate money to such a cause and not ‘pinch pennies,’” he said.

Azure said his tribe was also investing in census promotion campaigns amid the pandemic because there is an understanding that the next 10 years will be determined by this year’s count. “We understand how it’s going to affect the next generations of our people, so [we] look at it from a ‘visionary aspect.’” 


For tribes coping with the effects of historical trauma, Azure said, “How do you inspire a nation? Tell them that you can’t do something or tell them that they are excluded, that’s how you’re going to get people to stand up and be counted.”