February 16, 2010

Census meeting in Los Angeles

Tuesday I attended a Census meeting in LA on behalf of PECHANGA.net. The hosts were the Census Bureau's California Indian team and New America Media, a nonprofit that promotes ethnic media. The subject was how to increase the outreach to Natives who are undercounted every decade.

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:

  • Indians were undercounted 12.2% in the 2000 Census.

  • 64% of Indians are officially urban, living off the reservation. Because of undercounting, the unofficial number may be as high as 70%.

  • There were 4.1 million American Indians and Alaska Natives (AIAN) as of the last Census, or 1.5% of the US population. Of that total, 2.5 million (0.9%) were AIAN only. Another 1.6 million (0.6%) were AIAN and another race.

    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.

  • A survey showed Indians are more likely to believe the Census doesn't matter and the government will misuse the Census data.

  • Identifying tribal affiliation is a big problem. For instance, a member of the Colorado River Indian Tribes could put down "Colorado River Indian Tribes," "CRIT," or "Navajo" or "Hopi" (two of the tribes on the reservation). A third of Indian respondents write something the data processors can't identify.

  • 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

    1 comment:

    Rob said...

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