Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Census director, Native Americans coordinate on count

Census director, Native Americans coordinate on count
Oct. 21, 2008 06:42 PM
Cronkite News Service

The head of the U.S. Census Bureau and Native American leaders formalized an arrangement Monday under which the bureau and tribes will work together to make sure native populations are counted fully in 2010.

At the convention of the National Congress of American Indians in Phoenix, U.S. Census Bureau Director Steve Murdock and Joe Garcia, the native group's president, signed the bureau's first Native American policy.

"With all that we have tried to do and have done, we need your help," Murdock said.
Jefferson Keel, the native group's first vice president, said census data allow tribes to accurately plan and provide services such as educational programs and medical care. He said inaccurate census data contributed in the past to a lack of funding in tribal services.

"We're funded on a per-capita basis, so it does affect health care, housing, education, all of those programs that are funded by the federal government," Keel said.

Murdock said census data help tribes with more than federal funding.

"It's important in terms of political representation," he said. "It's important as well in providing a database for tribal governments to use in their own development and the design of their own programs, for the elderly, for the youth, for others as well."

Murdock said cooperation between the bureau and native groups helped improve the accuracy of the 2000 census versus the 1990 count.

"We recognize that people are more likely to respond to the census if the person coming to the door is someone who is from their community, who they can trust what they say and not just what they see from some bureaucrat such as myself," Murdock said.

The collaboration, which will continue in 2010, includes tribal members acting as liaisons to make sure materials reach members and are returned. The liaisons will distribute census information at tribal events such as powwows, help census staff understand tribal culture and encourage tribal members to apply for census positions.

Under a Partnership Program, the bureau will continue employing tribal members in regional census offices to distribute information and answer questions. Murdock said the bureau will hire as many tribal members as possible to help with the 2010 census.

Murdock said native groups will continue Tribal Complete Count Committees, which are approved by tribal governments and help members understand that the census is important and confidential.

"We certainly have done a lot more consultation with tribes looking forward to the 2010 census," Murdock said. "We're very committed to ensuring that we get an excellent count of tribal members and Native Americans across the country."

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