Written by: Director Robert Groves
I just got back from beautiful Southern California where I attended the National Congress of American Indians. I learned a lot about the diverse American Indian nations – there are 564 federally recognized tribes (though not all are members of NCAI). The American Indian nations are a very important group to the census because prior censuses have tended to undercount these populations.
I had a great time meeting with the various tribal leaders, and I was honored by their warmth and good humor. They told me about the unique challenges involved in enumerating their populations. Some reservations sit on very tough terrain, and tribal members living off the reservations need to be correctly classified as members of their tribe. These leaders shared excellent ideas about how we can improve our methods.
At the Congress, I was pleased to sign the Census Bureau’s formal American Indian and Alaska Native Policy Statement. I was the second director to sign this statement, following my predecessor, Steve Murdock. The policy pledges to consult with tribal leaders and cooperate with them on any activities regarding the census that might affect their tribes. I am proud of this good and strong policy that applies to all activities of the Census Bureau.
Since each nation forms its own government, the Census Bureau works with them one by one. Each tribe has its own customs, beliefs, and cultural norms and the Census Bureau strives to respect them all. Our staff meets frequently with tribal leaders, describing the purpose of the census, the need to locate each person at a residence, and the methods of counting. On some reservations, the census delivers forms by hand; on others, it interviews tribal members face to face.
In California, I also met with many of our American Indian and Alaska Native partnership staff, who are in day-to-day contact with tribal leaders. These partners are the real front line of outreach to the tribes. They address the tribes’ concerns and assure them that their participation in the census is a positive step in their nations’ futures.
The whole trip was an experience that underscored the complexity of the census undertaking and how it relies on the collaboration of diverse groups.