2010 census to start in remote Alaska village

Eskimo village Noorvik to be first counted in America

Posted: Sunday, August 02, 2009

ANCHORAGE - The Inupiat Eskimo village of Noorvik is expected to be the first town in America to be counted in the 2010 census.

Census officials let news of Noorvik's preliminary selection spill Thursday during a presentation on plans to count households in remote towns, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

The 2000 census counted 626,900 people in Alaska. The state estimates the population has grown by about 8.4 percent, to 679,700, as of 2008.

About 640 people live in Noorvik.

Census results are used to determine how much Alaska gets in federal funding for Medicaid and other programs. The state redraws voting districts after each census.

State demographer Greg Williams said Anchorage and the Mat-Su could pick up a seat in the Legislature, while Southeast Alaska stands to lose one because of population declines.

The census may confirm an apparent decline in population in rural Alaska and migration to towns and cities.

The Aleutian Region School District, for example, plans to close a school in Nikolski in the fall because of low enrollment, according to the state Education Department.

"You can go all the way down the Alaska Peninsula and out to the Aleutian Islands, and all the districts have been declining," Superintendent Joe Beckford said.

A recent report by the state Division of Community and Regional Affairs said the population in rural Alaska dropped by 3.6 percent between 2000 and 2008.

High fuel prices last year sparked talk of a rural exodus, but a May 2008 study by the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage said the trend can't be blamed on energy costs alone.

"What makes this census particularly timely and anticipated is that there's competing conventional wisdoms and a lot of discussion going on about what is really happening," said Steve Colt, associate professor with the institute.

The Census Bureau plans to hire about 2,500 census takers to go door-to-door in cities and towns across the state. That means using float planes, snowmachines and dog sleds to reach households across 586,000 square miles.

"The last census, we had people go up the upper Yukon (River) 20 or 30 miles to interview a fur trapper," said Deputy Regional Director Mike Burns.

The census-taker jobs last six to eight weeks, said Mark Tanguay, manager of the Anchorage census office. Currently they pay $17.50 an hour, though Alaska census officials said Thursday that rate could change.

In remote communities, census takers are expected to visit each household, surveys in hand. City dwellers can expect to get a census questionnaire in the mail.

Census Day for most of the country is April 1. But the bureau plans to get an early start in remote Alaska so census takers can avoid spring break-up and catch villagers before they leave to hunt or fish in warmer weather.

The 2000 census began in the Western Alaska village of Unalakleet.

Burns said the selection of Noorvik to start next year's count is preliminary and that the bureau was looking at other villages, too.

Acting Noorvik City Administrator Bobby Wells said he hadn't heard for certain whether his hometown will begin the count. But if so, he said, the Kobuk River village will be ready to feed any visiting census takers the town's traditional food.

"You'll have the moose barbecue. There's always beaver and bear," he said. "Seal, all the animals that we hunt and fish up here."

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