17 Aug 2021
More than 630,000 people who identify as American Indian and Alaska Native live in California, an increase of almost 74% from the official figure reported a decade ago, according to new 2020 data released by the US Census Bureau last week.
Zoom out wider to include American Indians singly or in combination with another race, and that number reaches around 1.4 million people: an increase of 94.9% since 2010. This second larger group represents now 3.6% of all Californians, up from 1.9. % ten years ago.
This is a drastic change for a population traditionally among the most underestimated. The Census Bureau reported that American Indian and Alaskan Natives living on reserves were underestimated by 4.9% in the 2010 census, a rate more than double the undercoverage of the population group. closest, black residents in the United States, at 2.1%.
Because census data helps guide the allocation of some federal funding, counting or undercovering can have important financial implications. The answers determine how billions of dollars are distributed each year for programs in Indigenous communities, the state’s census office said.
Many improvements have been made to ensure that the 2020 tally is more successful, said Jesse Fraire, who served as statewide census coordinator for the California Native Vote Project.
“I think that’s a more accurate number of our natives living in California,” he said.
On the one hand, increased coordination and state funding have helped. The state census office made funds available to 110 federally recognized tribes to help educate their members, and ended up making deals with 33 tribal governments.
The office also allocated around $ 1.15 million to the California Indian Manpower Consortium based in Sacramento, which in turn partnered with other Indigenous organizations and invited 80 tribes to conduct their own outreach, according to the Census Office. The California Native Vote Project also received $ 499,000 as a state partner. Outreach efforts focused on Native American communities in rural and urban areas.
Overall, the efforts marked the “largest state commitment to date” in increasing the participation of American Indians and Alaska Natives in the census, the bureau said, for a total commitment of $ 2.9 million.
There was also a better post on how to complete the census form and correctly identify the breed.
“We wanted to make sure people really understood the language on the form itself, so what it meant to be American Indian, Alaska Native, alone or in combination with others,” said Fraire.
The blatant 4.9% undercoverage of a decade ago was a determining factor in bringing about changes in this latest census.
“(This percentage) was probably one of the main slogans of many of our briefing materials, as a way to ensure that community members understand what happened in 2010, and making us a responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen again, ”he said.
Fraire said he thought the 631,016 Californians who self-identified as American Indians and Alaskan natives on their own were probably still a low number. Many may not have been counted, either out of personal preference or lack of awareness, he said.
“There is a historic distrust of government for many members of our tribal community,” he said.
California, and the nation as a whole, has a dark legacy of sending Native American children to government-run boarding schools, removing American Indians from their lands, and European settlers bringing disease to Native communities. centuries ago, among other atrocities.
“We would run into this every once in a while, where community members did not want to engage with anything related to government,” he said. “So this applies to both the census and other forms of civic engagement, like voting.”
Southern California tribes spread the word
In the Cahuilla Indian Reservation of the Torres Martinez Desert in the eastern Coachella Valley, tribal leaders have been working to disseminate census information to its members since 2019.
The tribe sought to overcome hurdles to get an accurate count of the reservation, including issues with internet connectivity and tribal members’ mistrust of Census Bureau employees going door-to-door. One solution was to turn its tribal headquarters into an internet hub where people could fill out their census questionnaires online, which was available to the general public for the first time in 2020.
“It’s really important for us to try to have an enumerator on site that people know,” added Vice President Joseph Mirelez in 2019.
The Torres Martinez Tribal Council approved a proclamation that year recognizing the importance of the 2020 census. The tribe also worked with the California Native Vote Project and the California Indian Manpower Consortium.
Following: Torres Martinez Tribe Prepare for Count in 2020; governments, non-profit organizations help tribes
Census 2020: California’s population grows 6% and diversifies
“If the numbers were right, we would get the amount that we – well, we’ll never get the amount that we need – we will get more money to help us with issues like housing,” Mirelez said.
Fraire of the California Native Vote Project said it had yet to see specific Census Bureau numbers on counts from various California reserves.
In the larger Riverside County, which encompasses the Torres Martinez Reservation, an additional 20,098 people were counted last year in the category of American Indian and Alaska Natives alone, for a total of over 43,800 people. This is a jump of almost 85% since 2010.
Not only will the new, more accurate census data impact the allocation of federal funds, it will also impact policy recommendations at the local and national levels, Fraire said.
“This can range from strategies to hold elected leaders to account, to strategies to develop policies based on equity regarding voting rights,” he said. “So I think we can use it as a lever for those kinds of deliberations.”
Amanda Ulrich writes for The Desert Sun as a member of the Report for America corps. Contact us on Twitter at @AmandaCUlrich or by email at [email protected]