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Massive Navajo census effort underway

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The importance of a complete count for the census is paramount to the future of the Navajo Nation because federal funding depends on it, said Arbin Mitchell, Census Bureau tribal partnership specialist who heads up the Navajo Nation census count.

“Having good count is crucially important to garnering funding for services from the federal government, whose job it is to help protect the health, welfare, and safety of its people,” said Mitchell.

In order for Navajo to get its fair share of the over half a trillion dollars distributed by the federal government each year, that count has to be accurate, and an undercount could mean less money and less services for Navajo.

Funding for roads, health facilities, emergency services, education, housing, elderly services and food stamp assistance are all tied to census data.

It is estimated that the per capita allocation for each Navajo counted in the census is between $3,000 and $4000, according to members of the Navajo Nation 2020 Census Complete Count Commission. So, if, for example, 1,000 Navajos aren’t counted, that could add up to a loss of $3-to-4 million to the Nation.

Grant funding at the chapter level also relies on census data.

“If you don’t have good data, it’s more than likely you won’t get a grant,” said Mitchell. “Everything is numbers driven these days.”

Population data is also integral to determining voter districts, so an accurate count helps to ensure equitable representation by elected officials.

Hiring Navajos for the count

With Census Day (April 1) just around the corner, the Navajo Nation census is staffing up for a successful count.

“Recruiting is so crucial any time you’re requiring a lot of manpower,” said Mitchell. “The census is no different. It’s a massive operation.”

As of right now, the Navajo census has received approximately 1,500 applications and 450 census workers will be part of the first wave of workers who will start training at the end of February.

However, they are still recruiting for an additional 1,000 plus qualified candidates so it’s not too late to apply, says Mitchell.

Positions include clerks, enumerators, recruiting assistants, office operations supervisors, census field supervisors and management positions. Each qualified applicant has to pass a background check.

Mitchell said that to the extent possible, local people are being hired to do the census work in their own communities.

“Local recruitment is very important because local people know the landscape of the area and won’t be subject to things like getting lost,” he said.

Of course Navajo language skills are a plus to help those citizens, especially elders, who might need help with translating, and interpreting the census questionnaire.

Mitchell says recruitment will continue the length of the census operation, as there are several phases. One of the most important phases is outreach to census “non-respondents” when enumerators will have to go out into the field door to door to do follow up and personal interviews starting in May.

“We’ll need a lot more enumerators for that part of the operation,” he said.

Mitchell says if they run out of qualified applicants, his operation might have to turn to other areas outside of Navajo to recruit people, which is something they want to avoid because the goal is to have Navajos do the Navajo census.

“The census is timeline sensitive, meaning that there are deadlines every week and you don’t want fall behind,” said Mitchell. “The absolute deadline for completing the census is July 31 and we don’t want to miss that deadlines because we don’t have enough workers.”

Mitchell said the application for census workers has to be done online. For those who might want help with completing it, assistance is being provided at local TANF and Workforce Solutions offices.

Updating addresses

Some of the challenges involved with trying to accomplish an accurate census on the Navajo include weather and road accessibility in remote rural areas, and lack of internet connectivity, as well as mistrust of the government.

For those who might be concerned about sharing their personal information, the U.S. Census Bureau is bound by law to protect the privacy of census takers and all data collected remains confidential and can only be used for the purpose of generating statistics for the census.

This year, as part of the tribal census “Update Leave” initiative, census questionnaires will be delivered to each and every home on Navajo, says Mitchell, and those homes that aren’t already on the delivery list will be added to it.

Navajo residents have the option to self-respond via internet, telephone, or mail.

Census count residency will be considered where you live on April 1st. Navajos who are working or attending school off of the reservation are required to self-declare the address of where they are residing or spending the majority of their time on that date. Regardless, respondents should indicate that they are Navajo, says Mitchell.

In the 2010 census, the total Navajo population in the U.S. was 332,200. Of that, 52 percent lived off of the reservation and 48 percent on the reservation. Many are eager to see what the population of Navajo, the largest tribe in the nation, is at this point.

Census summit this week

Mitchell says that the Navajo census effort needs to be a Navajo-wide team effort.

He encourages chapters, Navajo Nation government divisions and enterprises to work together to help the Navajo people with completing the census, thereby helping their communities and the Nation as a whole.

Mitchell said it’s also very important that the Navajo census is a collaborative effort with multiple entities, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service, counties, states, and non-profits advancing the cause.

“That way it’s a lot easier rather than just having one organization doing everything,” he said.

He adds that individuals can also volunteer to help out with outreach and education.

Even if individuals just commit to helping out with their own families, that will be a big help, said Mitchell. All of these efforts contribute to a successful census.

With all of this in mind, this Thursday and Friday, the “Navajo Nation 2020 Census Summit” will focus on building outreach strategies where everyone can contribute their ideas and organizations can find ways to collaborate, commit resources, and help plan events.

The event is open to the public and everyone is welcome.

Today, Thursday, Feb. 6, the summit is from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Henderson Fine Arts Center at San Juan College in Farmington. On Friday, Feb. 7, the summit is from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino in Flagstaff.

The summit features a robust agenda of speakers and workshops, including a session on how to fill out the census questionnaire.

Mitchell says another big need to fill is finding meeting spaces across the Nation where people can gather to offer help and get help to fill out the census questionnaire, such as chapter houses, senior centers and schools.

“Skies the limit,” said Mitchell.

People can even start planning census parties, he suggests. He hopes organizations across Navajo will use creative ways to make the census fun and engaging.

Bottom line, he said, is that it’s time for everyone to step up and do their part to help make the 2020 census a success.

“The census only happens once every 10 years,” said Mitchell. “If we do a good job, there is a lot of pride. If we don’t have a good count, then we’ll have to wait another 10 years to try again.”

Information: 2020census/jobs and www.nndcd.org



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