Wanted: Native Counters for Census
To ensure a more accurate count in 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau is trying to hire more Native American census workers who are familiar with that you-miss-the-turnoff-with-the-one-armed-cactus-and-you're-lost sense of direction helpful on reservations.
The Census Bureau has been aware of the undercounting of Native Americans since a 2003 internal report analyzing the past decade's numbers, said spokesman Raul Cisneros.
The 1990 census undercounted American Indians and Alaskan Natives living on reservations by an estimated 12.22 percent; the 2000 census undercounted them by 4.74 percent.
While that's a marked improvement, it needs to get better, says Jacqueline Johnson Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, who worked closely with the Census Bureau to jumpstart the Native hiring initiative. She stressed there are several federal programs in which tribes receive funding based on formulas derived from census numbers.
"Housing is a critical need in Indian Country — we use data from the census to determine the allocation of funding for that. If you look at other programs ... we need that same demographics information too," she said.
Obstacles in Gathering Data Led to Undercounts in 2000
According to Cisneros, challenges the Census Bureau faced when trying to count American Indians and Alaskan Natives living on reservations were residents' hesitation to report all members within a household and uncertainty of whether that information is kept confidential.
Johnson Pata said that after the 2000 count, when the hiring initiative of Natives first started, both the Census Bureau and Native organizations saw results.
"We found it really made a big difference knowing how to find people ... in parts of rural Indian Country. it's ‘The green house down the way from so-and-so house' logistically," she said.
Johnson Pata added that having some Native census workers helped tribal members — and tribal governments — feel more comfortable with the whole process.
"A lot of us feel like outside folks want to research us, and it hasn't ever turned out good for us — we've been researched to death and it's not a comfortable feeling," she said. "I hope [in 2010] that changes. ... We have a great showing from Indian Country, to show our growth and get the detailed information for demographics that we need to advocate for ourselves."
To apply for a job, go to the Census 2010 Web site .