2020 Census: Have you responded yet?
Navajo and Hopi response alarmingly low
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Because of a shortened deadline by the federal government and with only one month to go for the 2020 Census, the Navajo Nation has proclaimed September as National Census Month in an effort to encourage tribal members to respond to the census.
The current deadline for responding is Sept. 30 and both the Nation and the Hopi Tribe are reporting numbers in the low to mid-teens.
As of Aug. 27, the Navajo Nation total response is 18 percent. The Hopi Tribe’s total reporting numbers comes in at 15.6 percent.
Many rural tribal communities continue to face broadband challenges that have been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and there is a current undercount of the American Indian population that could have dire consequences for countless individuals and families, according to the Phoenix Indian Center.
Andrew Gashwazra, director of the Office of Community Planning and Economic Development and Land Information Systems for the Hopi Tribe, said the Census did try and work directly with each village to drop off packets without direct contact with residents, during the pandemic.
“I am aware Census and ITCS (Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona) are providing ads regarding the importance of [the] Census as well as other efforts to increase the response,” Gashwazra said.
Alec Thomson, Gov. Doug Ducey’s director of strategic initiatives and campaigns, told Capital Media Services that $1.2 million was put into what Thomson described as grassroots and paid media efforts to drive up the response and another $600,00 was aimed at increasing the response rate among tribal communities, rural areas “and other traditionally undercounted communities.”
But still the Navajo and Hopi numbers are both under 20 percent.
The census, which is mandated in the Constitution to be taken every 10 years, not only determines the number of seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives but also draws congressional and state legislative districts.
“We have had several challenges in recent years in regard to redistricting, but our Nation’s goal is to strengthen our representation at all levels of government to benefit our citizens and communities,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.
The census also provides critical data for lawmakers, business owners, teacher and many others use to provide daily services, products and support for communities and every year billions of dollars in federal funding goes to hospitals, fire departments, schools, roads and other resources based on census data, according to the 2020 Census website.
The Phoenix Indian Center, which is working in partnership with other statewide and national American Indian organizations to encourage community participation, points out that the undercount of the American Indian and Alaska Native populations means that funding for programs and grants benefiting tribal communities could suffer.
That is one of the reasons, Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer are proclaiming September as Navajo Nation Census Month.
“The 2020 Census count is a prime opportunity to improve the future of our communities for generations to come,” Nez said. “The Navajo people’s participation and response will shape how billions of dollars in federal funds are distributed each year for tribal programs and grants for the next ten years,” Nez said.
He said the Nation is working with Census Office Manager Arbin Mitchell to reach as many of the Navajo elders as possible, especially those in rural areas, to fully inform them and to provide guidance to ensure they are counted in the census.
“The census count is very critical for our political representation and our ability to advocate at every level of government,” Lizer said. “We need more Navajo people to run for office at every level of government, but we also need the voting districts to support them. To create change and implement new policies that help our communities, we need the political capital to move in that direction and the 2020 Census is a key part of that.”
The Phoenix Indian Center stresses that responses to the U.S. Census are confidential and protected by law and are vital to the future of education, infrastructure, housing, transportation and other essential services.
"It is important that anyone who self-identifies as American Indian or Alaska Native indicate that on the form, and then print the name of their tribe in the write-in area, said Phoenix Indian Center CEO Patricia Hibbeler. “We encourage everyone to check with their family and friends, especially those living on our reservations, to ask if they have completed the Census, and if they require assistance to do so.”
More information or to respond to the 2020 Census online is available at www.2020census.gov or by calling (844) 330-2020.
Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report