COVID-19 Adds a New Snag to the 2020 Census Count of Native Americans
by Colleen Connolly/Smithsonianmag.com
Earlier this year, before the COVID-19 crisis hit the United States, Native American officials representing New Mexico’s 23 tribes in Albuquerque met to discuss how they could avoid a repeat of 2010, when that year’s census sorely undercounted the nation’s indigenous population.
Because of the inaccurate calculation of their population—the 2010 census undercounted Native Americans on reservations by 4.9 percent—tribal communities lost thousands of dollars in federal funding and risked losing representation for their states in the House of Representatives. Attendees at the Albuquerque retreat made plans to educate their tribes about the importance of the census using field organizers and social media and also discussed what’s worked and what didn’t in the past for different nations.
Ahtza Dawn Chavez, the executive director of the Native American Voters Alliance Education Project, felt optimistic after the event. “We really felt like we had a really great game plan,” she says.
But then COVID-19 hit and began to spread rapidly. The U.S. Census Bureau suspended on-the-ground field operations, and many reservations in the West and Southwest—including the Navajo Nation, the largest in the country—closed their borders to outside visitors and tourists in March, hoping to contain the disease.