The Census count begins April 1, so it's quickly becoming an urgent issue. For some background on the subject, see:
For instance, Joely Proudfit has written these articles and submitted them to Native media outlets:
Census Goes Off the Rez to Count American Indians
SCAIR Partners With the US Census Bureau to Sponsor Workshop on the Upcoming 2010 Census
About 25 people were present--but almost half came from the Census Bureau, other government offices, or New America Media. Most of the rest were from community-based organizations (CBOs). I think the media was represented by a couple people from small newspapers and me.
The meeting went okay. Census leader Tim Harjo (Chiricahua Apache, Comanche, Seminole) gave us generalities along the lines of "We understand the need to reach out to California Indians...we've done a lot so far...but there are still problems...and we need to do a lot more." Hard to argue with that.
Some tidbits of information I gleaned:
These are self-designations on the Census form, of course. The Census doesn't define "Indian" or require people to prove they're Native. Any of us could identify ourselves as Indians.
We also had a semi-celebrity guest speaker: Hattie Kauffman, award-winning Native journalist for CBS News. She gave us a brief pep talk on the importance of what we were doing, then dashed off to do whatever serious reporters do.
A lot of effort, but...
I got the impression that the Census people were really trying hard. They were going to great lengths: developing TV and radio spots, meeting with tribes in remote locations, placing ads in small publications with a circulation of a few hundred, etc.
But just as evident were the things they apparently hadn't done yet. No billboards, ads, or PSAs with California Indian speakers or content. No outreach to PECHANGA.net, Indianz.com, or Indian Country Today. No strategy for Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter.
Next came lunch and a roundtable for exchanging ideas. I offered some thoughts on using the Internet and social media. For instance, create one website as a central source for all the information related to the California Indian Census. Post articles, FAQs, cast studies, blogs, videos and distribute them to media outlets and community gatekeepers. Get Natives to pass along the information via old and new media so the Census message goes "viral."
I said I was seeing a couple news items per week on Indians and the Census. I wanted to see more like several items per day. Why the Census is important to you, how it can help your tribe, what respected leaders say about it, why you should trust the Census, how to fill out the form and list your tribe correctly, and so forth and so on.
The upside is that the people from the Census Bureau and New America Media seemed eager to hear my ideas. The downside is that I didn't say anything new or original. I would've expected the Bureau to create and implement a new-media plan six months ago. Instead they were just thinking about it now.
After 10 years of lead time, it would be stupid and shameful if California's Indians are undercounted again. But there seems to be a decent chance of its happening. Stay tuned for further developments.
For more on the subject, see 2010 Census Art Competition and The Essential Facts About Indians Today. For photos of the meeting, see:
Census meeting--February 16, 2010