Navajo Nation kicks off Census 2000

by S.J. Wilson

The Observer

“Diné Generations are Counting on Us.” Kelsey Begaye, President of the Navajo Nation, and other tribal dignitaries stressed the importance of standing up and being counted in the Navajo Nation Census 2000. In an historic event, Begaye; Edward T. Begay, Speaker; Robert Yazzie, Chief Justice; Edmund L. Ciccarello, Chairman of the Navajo Nation Census 2000, Elouise Chicharillo, Area Director of the Navajo Area Bureau of Indian Affairs; and John Hubbard, Area Director of the Navajo Area Indian Health Services joined to sign a proclamation in support of Census 2000.

The above slogan was read by Begaye, who explained that it is meant to remind Navajos on and off the reservation that being counted in the census is important to Native Americans of all ages. Programs and services for the youth, the elderly, the ill, the infirm, all depend upon federal funding. The amount of funding provided by the government depends on numbers.

Begaye was thrilled to see the number of young people who would be serving as enumerators crowded into the census office near the Navajo Nation fairgrounds. He encouraged them to keep to the task at hand, and to get as accurate a count of the Navajo people as possible. “As you are out there, our prayers and songs will go with you,” he told them.

“We hope the signing of the proclamation will alert all Navajo citizens to the importance of the Census 2000 count,” Begaye explained. “It is vitally important that the Navajo people cooperate and make themselves available to the census workers. This is the first time in the history of the census that the Navajo Nation is taking responsibility to make sure that all the Navajo people are counted.”

The Proclamation, signed on March 20 at the Navajo Nation Census Office, recognized the 1994 Executive Order of President William J. Clinton mandating a government-wide policy to have the federal agencies work with all American Indian Tribes on a Government-to-Government basis. As a result of this order, the Department of Commerce established such a policy in 1995.

Through Resolution #CAP-46-99, the Navajo Nation created the Navajo Nation Complete Count Commission Census 2000 to take the lead role in conducting awareness, coordination, guidance and promotion of the Census. The Proclamation declares Census 2000 as a top tribal priority for all departments, elected and appointed officials to encourage each and every member of our Navajo communities to be open to the importance of the Census 2000 to achieve the most accurate count possible, so we can gain our fair share of federal funding for our Navajo communities.”

Elouise Chicharillo, the Area Director of the Navajo Area Bureau of Indian Affairs, also stressed the importance of an accurate count. “Plan on hitting everyone,” she said.

LeNora Fulton, The Complete Count Commission Vice Chairperson, implored the enumerators to stick with the job despite the many hardships related to traveling to every home on the reservation. “There are thousands of dogs

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on the Navajo Nation who will be chasing you,” she laughed.

Fulton and others stressed that the opportunity for the Navajo Nation to count its own is yet another step towards true sovereignty.

It is extremely important to know how to answer the race related question on the Census form, said Leila Help-Tulley, who serves as the Tribal Government Partnership Specialist. When answering this question, it is important that every member of your household who is an American Indian indicate their “Enrolled or First Tribe.” It is vitally important that the first person listed in the household is Navajo or American Indian. Help-Tulley explained that if a Navajo woman married to a non-Indian with children does not list herself first in the household, then every member of that household will be counted as non-Indian.

The question will look like this:

Now choose one or more races for each person. Which race or races does each person consider himself/herself to be?

There will be 15 boxes to choose from, indicating races such as White, Asian Indian, Chinese, and American Indian or Alaska Native. A Navajo who may have White or Hispanic ancestry but who is enrolled in the tribe or who considers him or herself Navajo would check the box indicating American Indian or Alaska Native. Underneath this question one would write “Navajo.”

Help-Tulley also explained that everyone must answer the Hispanic Origin Question. Navajos who are not of Hispanic origin are asked to mark the box “NO, not Spanish/Hispanic/Latino.”

By leaving this option blank, if your last name or surname sounds like or indicates Hispanic origin, a person runs the risk of being reassigned to the Hispanic population. “Please indicate you are Navajo or American Indian,” she stressed.

According to a fact sheet distributed by the Navajo Nation Census, being counted “directly affects every Navajo family’s and the Navajo Nation’s future.” The results of the census indicate what services to continue, establish and expand. The amount of federal funding which the tribe receives is based on the population. Programs such as Indian Health Services, WIC, Head Start, Services for the Elderly, JTPA and others depend on federal funding.

It has been estimated that the 1990 census missed an estimated 4.5% of American Indians. On reservation, this rate jumped to 12.2%. This compares to an undercount of approximately 1.6% of the entire U.S. population. The Census Bureau has changed the way it counts Native America, the most significant being a plan to “cover the ground” twice to list housing units in all but very sparsely populated areas.

Tribes will also be given an opportunity to review and correct the Census Bureau’s lists and locations of housing units for the reservation. Tribal knowledge of the reservation, it is believed, will substantially improve the accuracy of the Census.

Navajo Nation Census Enumerators will be knocking on the door. Some of you will not want to open that door, but your President has asked that you do so. Remember that your answers are confidential, and cannot be shared with others, including welfare agencies, the IRS or the police. Know that census workers have been carefully screened through a background check and employment reference checks. Should anyone violate your confidentiality, they will be fined up to $5,000 and imprisoned for up to five years. Because of numerous electronic security measures, no one can connect your answers to your name or address.

Remember, most of all, “Diné Generations are Counting on Us.”

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