February 26, 2010

Census info not reaching Natives

Census Under Fire Over Ad Dollars

By Alexandra MoeA congressional subcommittee wants to know if the Census Bureau’s multi-million dollar advertising campaign is reaching communities that can be the hardest to count.

At a meeting Wednesday night on Capitol Hill of the House Information Policy, Census, and National Archives Subcommittee, a parade of congress people worried that the Census has not done enough to engage local and ethnic media, which Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) called “the bibles of certain communities.”

Over $340 million has been allocated to the Census Bureau for a promotion and advertising campaign to avoid an undercount, part of an overall Census budget of $15 billion, triple the bureau's 2000 budget.

But with just five weeks to go before the April 1 deadline for mailing back Census questionnaires, lawmakers wondered if that money was being targeted effectively. They were quick to criticize Census officials for a culture of “unresponsiveness,” and for a campaign that often seemed to rely on “big talent” rather than local voices.
Examples of good and bad Census ads:Close cited one targeting the Native American community where a woman in jeans walks across an open plain, towards three tepees.

“These ads were created for a Native American community that is nowhere near the plains and who do not live in tepees,” said Close. “They were offensive, and the media didn’t use them.”

Another ad was brought to the overhead screen, created by the Hoopa tribe of Northern California for the Two Rivers Tribune. Across a local landscape the ad read, “Save our Water, Save Our Way of Life--Stand Up and Be Counted! Census 2010.”

That kind of unique messaging will “move the needle those extra percentage points that will pay off in hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Close.
Comment:  As you may recall, I attended a California Indian Census meeting in Los Angeles a couple weeks ago. It's safe to say the Census people didn't have a full-fledged plan for reaching Native populations on or off the reservation. They seemed eager if not desperate to hear our ideas.

In particular, they didn't seem to have any plans for using the Internet. No central website for information, no e-mail distribution, no social media. I found this nothing short of astounding. To contact hard-to-reach populations when you don't have much time or money, the Internet would be the first thing I'd try, not the last thing.

My position was that the Bureau should be creating a slew of these local, Hoopa-style messages. And then disseminating them through every available means. Especially the Internet.

Progress report

Since the meeting, I've been pushing for an Internet-based strategy. I'm glad to say we finally have a 2010 California Indian Census website, Facebook page, and Twitter account. Check 'em out and feel free to sign up!

NativeBiz.com gets credit for building the website, and Naqmayam Communications gets credit for creating and disseminating much of the information. But I'll take credit for the Facebook and Twitter components and for making the website happen. I'm not sure it would've happened if I hadn't urged it.

Of course, I don't know what's happening with other Indian communities and regions around the country. Maybe they're doing a better job than California is. Judging by the lack of Census info on the news sites (PECHANGA.net, Indianz.com, and Indian Country Today) and on Facebook, though, they may be doing worse.

Anyway, stay tuned for more coverage of the 2010 Census for Indians. The key question is this: After ten years of preparation, will the Census undercount Indians again? At this point it seems a distinct possibility.

For more on the subject, see Census Totem Pole and Census vs. Tribal Sovereignty.

Below:  "NNPA's Danny Bakewell and James Winston, head of the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters testified at the hearing." (Roy Lewis/NNPA)

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