JUNEAU - Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau counts everyone in the country. The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium has partnered with other tribal groups in the region to encourage all residents of Southeast Alaska to take part in the 2010 Census this winter/spring.
It is extremely important for everybody to stand up and be counted. Many health, social service, transportation and housing programs receive federal funding that is based directly or indirectly on formulas that rely on census population data. Accurate census data helps us know if we need to build new health care facilities and nursing homes, develop new roads, or determine if new schools and housing options are needed.
"For Native Americans, we really, really want them to participate in the census because we have small numbers and every number counts and every person counts," said Jacqueline Johnson-Pata, a Tlingít originally from Juneau who is Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians. "But because we have such a reliance and a relationship with the federal government - as far as our programs, the delivery of our health care services, our housing programs, our education services - it's absolutely critical that we have this information about the individuals that reside in our communities or identify themselves as Native Americans."
More than $400 billion in federal funding goes to Native programs nationwide, and census figures are used to distribute this money and to set policy for the next 10 years. American Indian and Alaska Natives have the highest undercounts of any ethnic group. An estimated 12.2 percent of Natives were missed in the 1990 Census compared to just 1.2 percent for all Americans, and an estimated 4.5 percent of tribal citizens were missed in 2000. If Native people are undercounted, then programs could lose part or all of their funding. NCAI recently launched a national program called Indian Country Counts to ensure tribal citizens are accurately counted.
"Census data is used for many health and social service benefits, so it's important that everybody be counted," said Roald Helgesen, President/CEO of SEARHC. "Census data is used to help us know when and where to build new clinics or expand health services, to analyze and plan for tribal elder facilities and programs, and to help fund tribally based non-profits. Census data also is used to help us identify health disparities that need special attention, such as the higher rates of diabetes and colorectal cancers among Alaska Natives."
"Getting an accurate count of Alaska Natives for the 2010 Census is vital to the tribe," said Bill Martin, President of the Central Council of the Tlingít and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. "It helps determine the allocation of federal funds for much-needed tribal programs, so it's very important that we be counted. Tribal members who are counted help ensure that resources and services, such as education, social services, and employment and training, continue to be available for future generations."
The census also is used to determine election districts and our representation in the state legislature. Migration from rural Alaska to the cities mean there's a chance Southeast Alaska could lose a state House and a state Senate seat in the next redistricting.
This year the census will have one of its shortest forms in history, just 10 questions. One question will ask people their race, and people can check more than one answer if they are mixed-race. New this year is a place for people who identify themselves as American Indian/Alaska Native to list the tribe they are enrolled with, for example Sitka Tribe of Alaska or Organized Village of Kake. This will allow the census bureau to break down the information into specialized reports for each of the nation's 564 federally recognized tribes.
"The 2010 Census promises '10 questions in 10 minutes,'" said Blake Kazama, PhD, President/CEO of the Tlingít and Haida Regional Housing Authority. "Just a few short minutes of your time can make a huge difference for Natives and Native funding."
Most Americans will receive a census form in the mail in March, which needs to be mailed back by the first of April. Counting in rural Alaska communities begins in late January (April in rural Southeast villages), and special counting procedures are being used on many Indian reservations, in rural Alaska communities and other rural or remote areas to make sure nobody is missed. In these rural areas, local community members who are working with the census bureau will visit homes to help you fill out the form and ensure an accurate count.
Census information is safe, secure and private. Census bureau workers in the field will carry an identification badge, handheld computer device, 2010 Census logo canvas bag and a confidentiality notice. Census workers will not ask for your Social Security number, bank account or credit card numbers, and they will never request donations. Anybody asking for this information is not with the census bureau. Census workers may contact you by phone, mail or in person at home, but not by e-mail, so be alert for e-mail scams. No personal census data may be released to any other agency (including the Internal Revenue Service or police) for 72 years, and the information only can be used in community profiles during that time. Census workers face severe fines and/or jail time if they release any personal data before the 72 years are up.
Officials believe it is very important to participate in the census so Alaska Natives can continue to receive benefits and programs that reflect an accurate count. For more information, go to http://www.searhc.org/2010census/.