Arizona Native Communities Fear Undercount As Supreme Court Allows Census To Halt

Published: Wednesday, October 14, 2020 - 4:10pm
Updated: Wednesday, October 14, 2020 - 10:09pm
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A U.S. Supreme Court order this week will allow Census counting to come to an end Oct. 15. The Census had been scheduled to continue through the end of the month, and some Arizona Native Americans say their communities will be undercounted because of the early cutoff.

The Census self-response rate for the Navajo Nation is about 22.3% as of this week. For the Gila River Indian Community, it’s just 12.5%. Both tribes were part of the lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s move to cut the count short. The deadline for completing the Census had originally been set for July, but that was extended through October because of the pandemic. Then, the Trump administration announced plans to end the count in September. The tribes, along with the National Urban League, the NAACP, and several cities, sued. 

The pandemic has exacerbated challenges to counting people in remote, Native communities. But it has also also highlighted just how important the Census is to tribal funding, said James Tucker, a pro-bono attorney for the Native American Rights Fund and a member of the National Advisory Committee which advises the U.S. Census Bureau on barriers to Census participation that Alaska Natives and American Indians face.

“Every person and every household that’s not counted, that’s costing a tribe. In the case of the CARES Act money, it cost some tribes tens of millions of dollars," Tucker said. 

Tucker said an undercount of Native American communities should be of concern to all Arizonans. 

“Arizona coming into the 2020 Census has been projected to pick up a congressional seat," Tucker said. "It may very well be that Arizona does not get that congressional seat if the count in Indian country is as low as we think it could be among the reservations in Arizona.”

In response to the Supreme Court order, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez released a statement saying, "It’s disheartening that the highest court of the land ignored the devastating impacts that COVID-19 has had on the Navajo Nation and the census count." He urged members of the Navajo Nation to complete the Census online before the Oct. 15 deadline. 

Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis said in a statement, "With no explanation or rationale, a majority simply decided that our people do not deserve to be counted.”