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ND groups try to boost tribal census participation

BISMARCK (AP) — Several groups in North Dakota are working to increase tribal participation in the 2020 U.S. census to ensure they are not undercounted or underfunded.

Overall, North Dakota has an 86% response rate and about a 64% self-response rate. But participation of the state’s five tribal nations ranges from 21-40% for self-response, U.S. Census Bureau data shows.

Census advocates credit many factors to the low response, most notably the coronavirus pandemic, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

“The ability for workers going door to door, social distancing — that’s been a big, big part of it,” North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission Executive Director Scott Davis said. “That’s probably been the biggest factor that I’ve seen experienced.”

Davis also points out that reservations can be harder to count because of rural settings and a lack of housing.

Sacred Pipe Resource Center in Mandan is one of many groups trying to boost participation numbers before Sept. 30, when the Census Bureau ends all counting efforts.

“We know that tribal programs, whether they serve the Native population off-reservation or whether they’re on-reservation, are typically underfunded, and so when you have an undercount as well as a program being underfunded, that creates — exponentially creates — more poverty and more disparity,” said Cheryl Kary, executive director of the resource center.

The Fort Berthold Reservation has a total self-response rate of 22.4%, according to the bureau’s figures. Mark Fox, chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, said tribal leaders have publicized the census through public relations events. He also said the census will be promoted during an outdoor powwow.

Still, Fox noted that he’s worried about historical underfunding and being “still left out in the cold.”

“We’re taxpayers like everybody else. We’re governments like everybody else,” Fox said.

To increase census participation on reservations, the state has funded local complete count committees and recently did outreach on the Turtle Mountain Reservation and in New Town on Fort Berthold, said Kevin Iverson, North Dakota census office demographer.

Remote communities and distrust in government have also contributed to the low census response, said Nicole Donaghy, executive director of North Dakota Native Vote, which advocates for civic engagement on reservations.

Donaghy added that organizers will be doing local census outreach on reservations and will also work with tribes to coordinate events.

“It’s up to us. It’s always up to us to take care of our communities,” Donaghy said.