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Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Mike Faith talks about the importance of the 2020 U.S. Census to Native Americans on Tuesday, Sept. 3, while attending the United Tribes Technical College Tribal Leaders Summit at the Bismarck Event Center. Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune

North Dakota tribes prepare for 2020 census

BISMARCK — North Dakota tribal leaders are taking steps to make sure their tribes aren't undercounted in the 2020 census.

Tribal officials stressed the importance of getting an accurate count in the upcoming survey during United Tribes Technical College's Tribal Summit on Tuesday, Sept. 3, in Bismarck. In a roundtable discussion, tribal chairmen discussed efforts they've made to reduce the risk of another undercount in the upcoming survey.

Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Mike Faith said his tribe has allocated $50,000 "for the purpose of helping get a true count." The money will be used for advertising about the upcoming survey.

"Accurate numbers are so important in road repairs, health, housing, schools," he said. "We depend on that financial assistance."

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated American Indians and Alaska Natives were undercounted by 4.9% in the 2010 census.

In addition to helping determine federal spending, census numbers also are used to determine seats in Congress and statehouses. Faith said he hopes the 2020 census numbers will be used for the redistricting of state representatives and senators. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has only one district — District 31 — in the state Legislature.

"Redistricting is so important ... so we can have our own district when it comes to state elections, so we can have more Natives at the Capitol," he said.

Tribal leaders and others on Tuesday discussed challenges in getting an accurate census count in Indian Country, including the remoteness of reservations. Wayne Ducheneaux, executive director of the Minnesota-based Native Governance Center, which assists tribal nations in maintaining sovereignty, also spoke about "misinformation" that spreads in tribal communities regarding the census counts.

Ducheaneaux, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, said he recalled how in 2010 census workers visited a hotel he was working at on the reservation and shared stories about getting "dogs sicked" on them.

"One lady had holes in her pants because she literally got dogs sicked on her. And it's because of that misinformation out there — when the federal government, in this case the U.S. Census, comes knocking at our door, they're going to take those numbers and they're going to use it to hurt us," he said.

But Ducheaneux and others on Tuesday stressed that census surveys are kept confidential under federal law.

"No one is going to use that information to hurt you; it's only going to be used to help you," he said.

In an effort to accurately capture census numbers, North Dakota officials earlier this year created a task force to assist with planning for the upcoming census. At a press conference in May, officials said missing someone in the census can result in losing about $19,000 in federal funding. The Complete Count Task Force, formed through an executive order signed by Gov. Doug Burgum, includes a tribal subcommittee to tackle census issues related to Indian Country.

Faith said that in addition to helping to inform public funding decisions, updated census numbers will be informative to tribes. For example, the Standing Rock Tribal Council recently passed a 25-year strategic plan to identify the needs on the reservation.

"You're looking out for the future generation to come so that they have a foundation," Faith said.