Tribal communities in Washington are stepping up efforts to make sure they’re accurately counted in the 2020 U.S. Census. Tribes are historically the most undercounted group. The reasons range from a legacy of mistrust in government to the technicalities of how data was collected in the past, before self-reporting was an option; officials tallying based on visual evaluations often overlooked Native Americans.
But it’s estimated that for every citizen not counted, tribes miss out on at least $3,000 worth of federal programs per year, for things like housing, food assistance, roads or Medicaid. And that funding gap lasts for ten years, till the next census.
“So really, when a community’s undercounted, even by a small amount, there’s millions of dollars that don’t go back into our communities,” says Samantha Biasca, Community Engagement Coordinator with Na’ah Illahee Fund, a Native-led nonprofit working on a statewide census campaign. The group has distributed grants and helped deploy thousands of so-called “trusted messengers” to get the word out among tribes about how much depends on census data.