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American Indians and Alaska Natives count: the US Census Bureaus efforts to enumerate the native population.

Obtaining a full count of all Native Americans is paramount to securing maximum federal funding to support tribal and state programs that help our children, elders, and community members.

--Alvin Warren, former cabinet secretary, Indian Affairs Department in New Mexico, 2008

Census data are important because they are used to determine how billions of dollars of federal funds are distributed among various programs such as social services, health care, education, and transportation. These data are also used to define school districts, apportion seats in the US House of Representatives, and make decisions about the type of community services that are needed. (1) These decisions have serious implications for Indian Country. For example, based on the growth of the Navajo population as reflected in the 1990, 2000, and 2010 census data, the Navajo Nation filed suit in federal court to force San Juan County to redraw district boundaries in order to provide adequate services and political representation for the nation's growing population. (2) Other tribal governments in the Southwest are relying on the 2010 census data to support their lawsuits against state officials on proposed redistricting plans. (3)

American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) governments recognize the importance of an accurate census count because of the implications for funding and congressional representation. However, achieving an accurate count of the AIAN population is a long-standing challenge for the US Census Bureau, the federal agency responsible for carrying out the federally mandated decennial census. This is due to a number of factors, including high mobility rates, a transient population, a historical mistrust of the federal government, and various methodological problems such as geographical challenges and language barriers. This article begins to explore some of the changes that the Census Bureau has made to achieve a more accurate count of the AIAN population. These changes are based on both internal and external methodological and political influences. The article begins with an examination of the historical relationship between the Census Bureau and AIAN Nations and populations. It also discusses early examples of undercounting among various tribes and initiatives taken by the Census Bureau to improve the count of the AIAN populations. Recommendations are also discussed.


American Indians have a unique legal and political relationship with the US government. Based on early Supreme Court decisions, the legal status of American Indian nations is referred to as "domestic dependent nations" within a nation. No other ethnic minority group in the country has this type of relationship with the federal government. The special status is based on legally binding treaty obligations enacted between the federal government and various tribes. Policies that result from the treaties were codified by the first Congress in the Indian Trade and Intercourse Act of 1790. The act prohibited all land transactions with Indian nations or tribes without the participation of the US government. In return for the protection of the United States, the tribes gave up external sovereignty, that is, the right to go to war with or make treaties with foreign powers. The trust relationship encompasses three components: land, tribal self-governance, and social services. (4)

Most specific to the Census Bureau are the issues of land, including taxation. Because Indian land is held in trust by the federal government, it is nontaxable. The decision not to include Indians in the initial census process resulted from their nontaxable status. This is referred to in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution, which mandates the census process:

   Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the
   several states which may be included within this Union according to
   their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to
   the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service
   for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths
   of all other persons. The exact enumeration shall be made within
   three years after the first meetings of the Congress of the United
   States, and within every subsequent term of ten years, in such
   manner as they shall by law direct.

As a result of the above mandate, American Indians were excluded from the first six censuses from 1790 through 1850. Indians not paying taxes were not to be counted when determining the population of states, based on the presumption that Indians immune from state and federal taxes were in political allegiance to their own tribes and thus not truly part of the United States. (5) However, with the advent of Andrew Jackson's forced assimilation policies of the early 1800s, the Census Bureau began the process of enumerating Indians by counting only some of the American Indian population. Beginning in 1860, only those Indians who were considered assimilated were officially counted and noted as "civilized Indians" in census documents. Being categorized as "civilized Indians" was primarily contingent on landownership. As Ted Clemence states: "The determination was administrative: apparently Indians on reservations who received allotments' under the General Allotment Act of 1887 were considered citizens. The Bureau determined whether a reservation had been allotted, and if so, the residents were enumerated as taxed Indians." (6)

Another issue that further complicated the process of enumerating Indian people in the 1880s was the controversy of whether or not to count Indian people of "mixed blood" (the terminology used at the time). It was decided that assimilated persons of mixed white and Indian blood living in white communities would be counted as white. However, if the mixed-bloods lived among Indians, they would be counted as Indian. These definitions of Indians were applied in the federal censuses of 1850, 1860, and 1870 in determining the country's population. (7)

In 1880, the Census Bureau cooperated with the commissioner of Indian Affairs and collected information on both taxed and non-taxed Indians. However, the information was not published in the 1880 census report. (8) It was not until 1890 that the Census Bureau not only performed an in-depth enumeration of both taxed and nontaxed Indians but also published the information. The 1890 census report on Indians is presented in volume 10 of the eleventh census publication and contains extensive information on the living conditions, vital statistics, land, and customs of American Indians. The 1890 enumeration had the advantage that residence patterns of Indians had stabilized because the federal policies of forced removal had ended. Consequently, most of the Indians were living on reservations, on land owned by themselves, or in white communities.

Problems encountered during the 1890 enumeration continued to affect census taking among American Indian populations. Barriers to a more accurate count included language differences, resistance to federal government intrusion, high mobility rates, and lack of sufficiently trained, culturally competent interviewers. The 1890 census report for what is referred to as the Five Civilized Tribes (the Creeks, Cherokees, Seminoles, Choctaws, and Chickasaws) indicates that two or three interpreters were needed to administer the census. In addition, many of the tribes were opposed to the census process. On the Creek and Seminole reservations, Indian leaders held meetings to resist participation in the census count. In large isolated reservation areas such as the Navajo reservation, insufficient resources were allocated. In the 1940s, a lone agent was assigned to enumerate the approximately twenty-five thousand square miles of the Navajo reservation. (9)

Because of various problems experienced in enumerating the American Indian population it was difficult to get an accurate count. Inaccuracies of the early censuses were noted by Lewis B. Meriam in 1928. Meriam's book, The Problem of Indian Administration (more widely known as the Meriam Report), cited the lack of accurate statistics about Indians as a major problem and suggested the need for additional questions in the general population schedule, such as degree of Indian blood. (10) Partly as a response to the Meriam Report, the 1930 census schedule included a more thorough account of the American Indian population. This is reflected not only in the method and type of information gathered but by the 36 percent increase over the 1920 census. (11) The 1930 census evidenced three major improvements over past procedures, including (1) the use of the general schedule, (2) enumerating Indians at the same time as the rest of the population, and (3) the use of trained census employees as enumerators rather than Bureau of Indian Affairs employees, as had been done in all previous counts. (12)

Thus, although American Indians have been included in the census count since 1890, for purposes of apportioning representatives to Congress, American Indians who were not taxed were deducted from the total population count until 1940. In 1939, the Census Bureau solicited an opinion from the US attorney general to resolve the problem of excluding certain segments of the Indian population from the total count. Two events that most likely served as an impetus were a 1935 Supreme Court decision, Superintendent v. Commissioner, which held that all Indians are subject to federal taxation regardless of landownership, and the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.13 The Indian Citizenship Act gave all Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States full citizenship. This status, however, did not infringe upon the rights American Indians enjoyed as members of their respective tribes, thus implying a dual citizenship status for Indians. (14) Hence, in 1940 the Indian population was finally included in the total US census count.

The 1940 census does not indicate any special treatment for the Indians. The 1950 census included a supplemental schedule used to assist the Bureau of Indian Affairs (bia) in policy decisions. With input from the bia, maps were used to designate the boundaries of the reservations. The 1960 census differed from earlier decennials in that the respondents self-reported their race. In the 1940 and 1950 census counts, the enumerators decided the race of the respondent. This method was reportedly criticized by the bia: "A trained anthropologist would not be able to tell upon sight whether a person was an Indian." (15) In 1970, race was once again obtained on the basis of observation by enumerators in rural areas of the country, including most reservations. (16)

In 1980,1,420,400 American Indians and Alaska Natives (AIAN) were enumerated. (This is the first time that Alaska Natives were mentioned separately in the census literature.) The 1980 decennial census included the highest official count of the American Indian and Alaska Native population through its date and represented a 72 percent increase over the 1970 census count. (17) Jeffrey Passel and Patricia Berman note that this type of natural increase is demographically impossible and suggest an overcount of Indians in certain segments of the country. (18) However, caution must be taken when comparing previous decennial censuses of American Indians with more recent ones, since the accuracy of the past and present censuses is highly questionable. Moreover, a number of other factors made comparisons between censuses on American Indians and Alaska Natives difficult. For example, in the 1970 census, race was determined based on the census workers' observation in rural areas, including on reservations.

For the 1980 census, respondents self-identified their race. In addition, differences in the wording of the question on race and improvements in enumeration procedures, such as hiring people from the community as census enumerators, may also have influenced the outcome of the 1980 census. (19) In the 1990 census (as in the 1980 census), three separate categories were employed: American Indian, Eskimo, and Aleut. The 1990 census revealed a 38 percent increase over the 1980 census in the man population. Additionally, there was a 26.4 percent increase of the AIAN population between the 1990 and 2000 census. These figures reflect a steady increase in the AIAN population. In 2000 and 2010, the AIAN categories were combined, and respondents were able to indicate if they identified with more than one race. (20) In 2010, 2.9 million respondents indicated AIAN alone. This is an 18.4 percent increase over the 2000 census, which showed 2.5 million people reporting AIAN alone. (21)

In summary, the review of the decennial censuses among AIAN reveals a steady increase of the AIAN population throughout the years and a complex process centering on both political and methodological issues. The political concerns stem from the unique status that American Indian nations have within the federal government, a status that ultimately affects the methodological process of enumerating Indians. For example, race is an important component of the census schedules. However, not only is biological race involved, but, in the case of the American Indian and Alaska Native population, race is also politically and culturally grounded.

In general, there are three criteria for classification of individuals as Indian: (1) legally Indian (i.e., individuals enumerated on tribal rolls), (2) Indian by residence (i.e., legal Indians who reside within Indian reservations or Indian communities), and (3) cultural Indians (i.e., Indians who are functional participants in an ongoing Indian society and who identify as Indians). (22) For the purposes of the Census Bureau, the more recent definition of an Indian (in 1960, 1980, and, to some extent, 1970) has been a social one that has relied upon "self-identification." This procedure can be problematic, since the individual may or may not be culturally Indian or may or may not have any degree of Indian blood. (23) This type of ambiguity leads to inaccurate counts among the Indian population. Another methodological problem related to political considerations prior to the 1980s is the lack of AIAN involvement in the census process. As the review of the census records indicates, until recently the Census Bureau bypassed tribal governments and worked directly with bia officials to assist in the data collection process. It has also been pointed out that federal government officials have systematically enumerated American Indians for purposes other than counting, including fiscal control over annuity payments and land allotments. (24) In summary, the Census Bureau has experienced a number of unique and complex problems in counting the AIAN population. Many of those problems center on political as well as cultural considerations. As a result, the population estimates for the Indians are more an approximation of their numbers rather than an accurate count.


The second part of this analysis will attempt to understand the demographic undercount of American Indians by an examination of the literature and other documents. Despite the increased efforts by the Census Bureau to have an accurate enumeration of the AIAN population, a number of tribal officials from various regions across the country expressed concern over the 2010 census undercounting. (25) Thus far, there is a lack of written documentation to support the undercount charges. This review indicates the paucity of published research in this area. The most complete studies that examine undercounting among the American Indian population are those that were funded with the support of the Census Bureau.


A number of researchers have noted the inaccuracies of the census data on American Indians. (26) The studies that examine the census undercount of American Indians have focused primarily on historical underenumeration among specific tribes. For example, ethnohistorians have revealed undercounts among the Cherokee, the Mandan, and the Pima and Maricopa Indians. (27) George Hillery and Frank Essene's research indicated that there was an undercount of approximately twenty thousand Navajos residing on the reservation during the 1960 census. Their figures are based on a comparison of the 1960 US Census count with the 1960 BIA records. (28)

Research concerning the 1980 census and the 1988 dress rehearsal count also reveals an undercount among the American Indian population. A report by David Fein using data from the 1980 Census Post-enumeration Program found that the 1980 census undercounted American Indians by approximately 8 percent. (29) One of the few studies that examine the urban Indian population was submitted to the Census Bureau by Van A. Reidhead. His sample of the Saint Louis Indian Centers service population (low-income urban Indians) indicates that a large number of American Indian households in that area either did not receive a 1988 dress rehearsal form in the mail or were not visited by a census taker. (30) Two other research papers submitted to the Census Bureau include the Colville Indian reservation study and the Saint Regis research. The Colville study, undertaken by Lillian Ackerman during the fall of 1988, compared the spring 1988 census dress rehearsal and her ethnographic research in the fall of the same year. Significant differences between the two selected study blocks were disclosed: undercounts of 13-23 percent were documented in these small sample areas. (31) According to Ackerman, the reasons for the discrepancies include clerical errors made by the census workers, high mobility patterns among Colville residents, and resistance and apathy on the part of the Indian respondents. In an additional study on mobility patterns in Colville, Ackerman found a 25-35 percent mobility rate in the areas studied. (32) The study on the Saint Regis Mohawk reservation focuses on issues that affect the outcomes of census counting. In particular, Nancy Bonvillain concentrated on the mobility and work patterns of the Mohawk population as these relate to residence patterns that ultimately affect accurate population counts by the Census Bureau. (33)

In addition to ethnographic research, there have also been tribal reports concerning underenumeration. According to tribal officials, Kewa Pueblo (formally known as Santo Domingo Pueblo) in New Mexico was underenumerated for the 1980 census due primarily to the mapping procedure employed by the Census Bureau. The tribe received census maps by bulk mail from the bureau--some were incomplete, while others not only were damaged in transport but were difficult to read. Consequently, entire sections of the reservation were excluded from the maps, and a significant number of households were omitted from the 1980 count. In response, the Census Bureau performed a 1984 special count of Kewa that revealed an undercount of approximately 24 percent and confirmed tribal officials' accusations. (34)

In November 1980, the Red Lake band of Chippewa Indians filed a complaint in federal district court against the Census Bureau for undercounting the Red Lake Chippewa reservation community. Although a number of charges were listed in the suit, such as failing to enumerate all persons living on the reservation, failing to enumerate and properly classify all housing units on the reservation, and failing to employ sufficiently skilled employees to conduct the census, the suit was dismissed by the court in November 1988 for lack of adequate documentation. However, according to the tribes suit, the Census Bureau failed to provide data that would allow the tribe to provide proper documentation. (35)

The documented evidence of census undercounting among American Indian populations indicates that it is not concentrated among any particular tribe or region but encompasses a wide range of circumstances and situations. For example, undercounting has occurred among urban and reservation Indians and in large and small tribes. An undercount has also been established in traditional tribes and in fairly modernized tribes. For the 2010 count, the Census Bureaus postenumeration survey found a 4.9 percent undercount of the AIAN population living on reservations but no significant undercount for the urban AIAN population. (36) A number of reasons have been presented to explain the undercount. The next section of this article will delve into the possible causes of the undercount.


A number of hypotheses have been presented in an attempt to understand the undercount among AIAN. The three most common explanations are (1) high mobility patterns among the Indian population, (2) resistance because of distrust of government and fear of losing government assistance, and (3) methodological problems such as inconsistent data collection procedures and culturally biased schedules.


Factors contributing to mobility center primarily on employment, education, and travel. Employment and education are two major reasons for mobility. Economic conditions on most reservations limit employment opportunities. (37) Therefore, a major portion of the reservation population must seek employment opportunities away from their respective reservations.

According to the literature, the most readily perceived cause for undercounting the Indian population is mobility. Included in mobility are the differentiated living patterns found among many American Indian tribes (i.e., extended family households), which is conducive to movement among households. The subjects of mobility and census undercounting have generated several in-depth studies. Susan Lobos study of urban Indian households in San Francisco discusses the "fluid" pattern of mobility among Native populations and suggests that many American Indians in the Bay Area view themselves as having more than one home--one in the city, and the other on their respective reservations--and that they move fluidly back and forth between the two residences. (38) Theodore Jojola also describes the cyclical movement among the urban Indian population in Albuquerque. (39) Ackermans comprehensive study of the Colville Indian reservation community provides a good account of household structure and mobility patterns that is applicable to a number of different tribes. Factors that contribute to mobility include both traditional and contemporary influences. (40) Traditional reasons for mobility involve attendance at celebrations and participation in ceremonies. As mentioned above, the extended family structure is conducive to greater movement between extended family households. Additionally, Jojola's study utilizing the 1990 census data revealed an undercount of Indians living in Albuquerque, New Mexico (4 percent undercount), and those living in the surrounding reservations near Albuquerque (13.6 percent undercount). The high mobility rate of the urban Indian community--moving between their reservations and their urban neighborhoods--contributed to the consistent undercount of the American Indian population in and around the Albuquerque area. (41)


Historically, the federal government has viewed American Indians in a paternalistic and ethnocentric manner. This perspective is reflected in various governmental policies directed at American Indians such as the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the Major Crimes Act of 1885, the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887, and the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968.42 Given the internal colonial relationship that has existed between the US government and American Indians, resistance to the census is not an uncommon response. One of the earliest reports that documents resistance as a reason for undercounting Indians was in 1866 by Washington Matthews, assistant surgeon for the United States Army. He indicates that the counts among the Mandans in Fort Berthold, North Dakota, were inaccurate because the Mandans did not trust the intentions of the Census Bureau and refused to be counted. The reason for their resistance was a smallpox epidemic that devastated the community in 1837. The Mandans believed that the epidemic resulted from a census that had been conducted prior to the epidemic. As a result, they resisted all subsequent efforts to count them. (43)

Various studies mention resistance and mistrust of the federal government as a cause of underenumeration among the AIAN population. Manuel de la Puentes ethnographic study found that the American Indians in the sample had a historical mistrust of the federal government based on their negative perception of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. (44) Ackerman's work among Colville notes that some respondents were reluctant to participate in the census count for various reasons, including cohabitation violation of housing regulations in hud homes. (45) Reidheads 1990 study on Indian attitudes toward the census found that urban Indians in Saint Louis held ambiguous views of the census. When asked if they would cooperate with the census, 23 percent said they would not. (46) The explanations given for not participating centered around general distrust of the federal government and uncertainty about confidentiality.


As noted earlier, the areas that were listed as problems in the 1890 census of American Indians, including language, resistance, high mobility rates, and lack of sufficiently trained interviewers, continue to be emphasized by researchers as reasons for undercounts in the more recent censuses. With some exceptions, language is less problematic today, since more AIAN are familiar with English, and the Census Bureau has made a concerted effort to recruit, hire, and train AIAN census enumerators familiar with their Native language from the communities. Moreover, programs such as the Tribal Liaison Program and the Tribal Complete Count Committee have been integrated into the enumeration process. Despite improvements in language and increased tribal involvement at the local level, some methodological problems persist.

A most evident methodological problem, as mentioned earlier, is the uncertain and inconsistent definition of "Indian." In recent census counts, the definition has been a social one that has relied upon "self-identification." There are two reasons why this is problematic and can lead to undercounting. First, the unclear definition of who is an Indian leads to uncertainty about census results. Researchers and practitioners alike are cautious about making projections from census data. This was particularly evident with the 1980 census results. The 1980 census count showed an increase of approximately 70 percent over the 1970 census. A number of researchers and practitioners claimed an overcount of American Indians, while a number of tribal leaders claimed an undercount of their people. Claims of an undercount by tribal leaders appeared to be overshadowed by the overcount claims. (47) The uncertainty about the accuracy of census data on American Indians can also result in negative policy and program decisions for the AIAN population.

A second problem with uncertain definitions of "Indian" is that they reflect the historic inability of the Census Bureau to recognize the unique relationship that AIAN have with the federal government. Tribal identification is not only biological; it is also political. This issue was raised by tribal leaders at the 2007 American Indian and Alaska Native Tribal Consultation meetings. They expressed concern over the classification of tribes as "racial groups" because they felt this classification could "undermine tribal sovereignty and erode the special relationship that the government has with federally recognized tribes." The most frequent recommendation was to have two questions on the census form, one that would count members of federally recognized tribes, and another that would count other AIAN populations such as state-recognized tribes and unrecognized tribes. (48)

Another methodological problem is the cultural bias of the census questionnaire, which is founded on a Western European image of how society is organized. An example is the question on residence. Specifically, residence is defined by the census as being based on the nuclear family household. Most AIAN tribes and villages are based on the extended family concept, and current residence patterns reflect this life style. Lobo highlights the hospitality of the "urban clan mothers" in a dynamically mobile community. According to Lobos research, it is common for families living in the San Francisco area to provide temporary homes for relatives and friends to stay over extended periods of time. (49) The research by Ackerman and Bonvillain also documents the incongruence between the census format and the actual residence patterns of Indian tribes. These studies indicate that residence patterns on Colville and Saint Regis are fluid and complex. They include extended families, interhousehold mobility, on- and off-reservation employment with temporary out-migration, and frequent returns to the reservation. Currently, the census items on the schedules fail to incorporate the residence patterns of many ethnic minority groups, thus resulting in an undercount. (50) Other early methodological problems that have resulted in underenumeration in past censuses include mapping problems and unclear boundary divisions. However, the introduction of digital mapping has alleviated some of these issues.

Changes to Reduce the AIAN Undercount

As the above research indicates, there are long-standing problems associated with enumerating AIAN populations. In preparation for the 1980 census, the Census Bureau began to introduce important changes to address the undercounting. Four of these initiatives are discussed below and include (1) increasing involvement and collaboration with AIAN governments, organizations, and individuals in the planning and implementation process, (2) funding and supporting research projects that focus on the undercount of American Indians, (3) developing an AIAN policy statement, and (4) implementing a media campaign targeting the AIAN population.

Involvement and Collaboration with AIAN Governments, Organizations, and Individuals

In 1975, the Census Bureau created four advisory committees comprised of hard-to-count populations, including black, Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islander, and AIAN. The purpose of these committees was to assist the Census Bureau in planning the 1980 census. (51) The committees were chartered in 1985 as the Minority Advisory Committee to advise the Census Bureau for planning the 1990 census. Subsequently, the Minority Advisory Committee, referred to as the Race and Ethnic Advisory Committees (REAC), added a fifth group: Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. The five groups, including the AIAN Advisory Committee, consist of approximately nine members appointed to three-year terms who meet at least once or twice a year. (52)

In 2011, the REAC charter expired, and a new charter was drafted. The current title for the REAC is the National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic, and Other Populations. The committee consists of thirty-two individual members and organizational representatives who serve three-year terms at the discretion of the director. (53) According to the Census Bureau, "Membership will include race and ethnic populations, nonracial/ethnic hard-to-count populations (i.e., youth, renters, etc.), and experts across diverse interests and qualifications to advise the Census Bureau on all of its programs: decennial, demographic, economic it, communications and research and methodology." (54)

In addition to the advisory committees and in preparation for the 1990 count, the Census Bureau formed an internal AIAN Task Force comprised of bureau staff members. (55) Moreover, in 1985 and 1986, the Census Bureau sponsored twelve regional meetings for tribal leaders and urban AIAN communities. (56) An important outcome of the tribal consultation meetings was the establishment of the Tribal Liaison Program. (57) Tribal liaisons are assigned by their tribal governments and/or AIAN organization to act as the contact person between the Census Bureau and the tribal government and/or Native organizations and are actively involved in promoting the importance of the census in their respective communities and in recruiting enumerators. (58) Additional efforts, such as hiring tribal members for census planning and enumeration activities, developing partnerships with AIAN organizations, holding workshops at national American Indian conferences, and distributing media and public relations materials, were initiated to increase the collaboration and awareness of the decennial census.

In 2007, Census Bureau conducted fourteen consultation meetings with tribal leaders from across the country. Two of the seven primary objectives listed in the 2008 Census Bureaus final report on tribal consultation are to "improve the two-way communication with tribal officials and create an opportunity for AIAN governments to raise issues and the Census Bureau to gain insight into key issues." (59) In addition to consulting with tribal governments, collaboration with AIAN organizations and state-recognized tribes was also encouraged. In 2008, the Census Bureau held working meetings with urban Indian organizations and state-recognized tribes. Furthermore, partnerships were established with Native organizations such as the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the National Indian Education Association (NIEA), and the National Council on Urban Indian Health (NCUIH). These partners provided outreach activities and media coverage for the 2010 count. (60) In particular, the NCAI played a key role in supporting the 2010 census efforts. At a press conference in 2009, the NCAI, along with the director of the Census Bureau, launched its 2010 Census Campaign, "Indian Country Counts." NCAI was actively involved in the promotion and outreach activities for the 2010 census enumeration, including the hosting of a webinar on census activities. (61) Additionally, NCAI has also raised some important questions concerning the limitations and suitability of the American Community Survey (ACS) data on the AIAN population, including data availability and timeliness for smaller reservations. The ACS is a monthly, ongoing survey that has replaced the decennial long-form census used in past censuses. (62)

Research Projects

In addition to increasing the involvement of tribal governments and Native communities in the decennial planning process, the Census Bureau funded a number of ethnographic research projects that focused on both urban communities and AIAN reservations. The research projects discussed earlier, including Lobos study of the San Francisco AIAN population, Ackerman's work on the Colville Indian reservation, Bonvillian's work with the Saint Regis reservation, and Jojola's research on the urban AIAN community in Albuquerque, provided crucial information to the Census Bureau regarding the complex residence patterns of urban and reservation AIAN populations. (63) A common finding among these ethnographic studies, which span more than a thirty-year period, is the consistently high mobility rate among the AIAN population.

AIAN Policy Statement

As a result of President Clintons 1994 Memorandum on Government to-Government Relations with AIAN Governments (followed up by Executive

Order 13084 in 1998), the US Commerce Department issued the 1995 man Policy Statement. (64) Subsequently, in 2008 and in preparing for the 2010 census, the bureau issued its own 2008 AIAN Policy Statement. A year later, this policy statement was reaffirmed by the newly appointed Census Bureau director. Importantly, the Census Bureau policy statement recognizes the federal trust responsibility and the government-to-government relationship that exists with the more than five hundred federally recognized AIAN governments. This unique relationship is based on various laws, treaties, court decisions, and presidential executive orders.

Targeted Media Campaign

As early as 1950, the Census Bureau worked with the National Advertising Council to assist in the development and distribution of census promotional materials, but it was not until 1990 that the bureau began to develop promotional materials directed at the hard-to-count populations. At that time, it contracted with the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) to develop the 1990 census media campaign, IAIA staff and students created a variety of communication materials for the AIAN population, including public service announcements (PSAS), live-copy PSA scripts and drama, a video docudrama, and a reproducible art package. (65)

The 2000 census media campaign was the first-ever paid campaign for the census. (66) In 2010, the bureau's three-hundred-million-dollar national advertising campaign was the largest in US government history. An American Indian-owned advertising business was subcontracted to target the AIAN population for both the 2000 and 2010 media campaigns, which utilized TV, radio, print, outdoor, and Internet ads and social media. These ads were geared toward the specific regions as well as the urban and reservation AIAN populations. (67)


Historically, the relationship between the Census Bureau and AIAN has been complex, involving both political considerations and methodological problems. Beginning in the 1990s, the Census Bureau began to formally recognize the unique political status of the AIAN nations and to aggressively address the undercount of the AIAN population by actively involving American Indians and Alaska Natives in its structural procedures and activities, AIAN involvement has been attempted by (1) including man governments and peoples in the planning process of the decennial census, (2) establishing an AIAN Advisory Committee, (3) funding research projects that focus directly on the AIAN populations, (4) developing an AIAN policy statement, and (5) implementing a media campaign targeting the AIAN population. The above activities are some of the efforts that have contributed to greater visibility of the decennial census among the AIAN populations. Other positive changes that have occurred to address the undercount of the AIAN population are the increase of AIAN employed at the main office of the Census Bureau and the establishment of the Tribal Liaison Program. Furthermore, many tribal governments are proactive in the census process and appoint an individual to be the contact person for the decennial census count within their community.

The research suggests a number of important policy implications. First, the Census Bureau must continue to foster a productive working relationship with the AIAN governments and organizations by holding regional meetings with tribal leaders and Indian organizations and working with the AIAN advisory committee early in the planning process. Because of the complexity of enumerating a highly mobile and politically unique population, the Census Bureau must work cooperatively with the AIAN population and keep them informed about possible changes within the enumeration procedures to allow adequate time for consultation and feedback from the AIAN community. Second, more initiatives should be undertaken by the bureau to encourage AIAN researchers and practitioners to use census data for the benefit of their communities. Such initiatives would provide a means of building greater trust in the census and assuring that the collection and interpretation of census data would be culturally sensitive. Furthermore, the bureau should continue to recruit AIAN to work with the Census Bureau by conducting an aggressive search to staff and promote AIAN within the various divisions of the Census Bureau. Moreover, more American Indians and Alaska Natives must be involved in the decision-making process of the Census Bureau by placing them in positions of authority. This can be accomplished through an aggressive recruitment and training process. Although there has been a slight increase in the number of AIAN that are employed in the Census Bureaus central office, which is located in Suitland, Maryland, more needs to be done to increase the number of AIAN employed at the main office. In 2011, there were thirty-one man people employed at the Census Bureaus main office. Although this is an increase over the 1990 employment figures, it continues to reflect less than 1 percent of the total workforce population at the main office. Furthermore, only seven of the thirty-one AIAN employees at the main office are in higher-level decision-making positions (GS-13 to Senior Executive Service). (68)

Because of the difficulty of recruiting American Indians to relocate and work in the Washington area, consideration should be given to placing Indians in regional offices. In addition, field visits to Indian reservations and villages and soliciting continuous involvement of tribal leaders will also assist in establishing a cooperative relationship between the Indian population and the Census Bureau. Furthermore, it is essential that the bureau establish an office or "desk" that is specifically intended to work with AIAN populations on a continuous basis. This would further institutionalize the bureau's efforts to involve the Indian population in bureau activities and would enhance the government-to-government relationship. Lastly, the Internet and social media are important tools that can be used to connect with the AIAN populations. However, many of the AIAN nations and populations are located in geographically isolated areas where access to digital technology is limited. Therefore, the Census Bureau should not rely exclusively on technology to communicate and work with AIAN governments and organizations.


An earlier version of this article was funded by the US Census Bureau and published in May 1990 as a research paper under the title "As Simple as One, Two, Three: Census Underenumeration among the American Indians and Alaska Natives." The original is archived on the US Census website here:


The epigraph that begins this article is taken from Alvin Warren, Tribal Nation News (Denver Regional Census Center) 6, no. 2 (October 2008): 3,

(1.) US Census Bureau, "2010 Census Integrated Communications Campaign Synopsis: The Success of the Census in Our Hands," March 2009, vol. 2.0,

(2.) Jennifer Dobner, "Navajo Nation Sues Utah County over Voting Issues," Deseret News, January 12, 2012,

(3.) Barry Massey, "Lawmakers Urged to Keep Indian-Majority Districts," Reznet News, December 15, 2011,; "Don't Ignore Tribal Clout," Santa Fe New Mexican, December 15, 2011,

(4.) US Civil Rights Commission, Indian Tribes: A Continuing Quest for Survival, Report of the United States Commission on Civil Rights (Washington dc: Government Printing Office, 1981).

(5.) Vine Deloria Jr. and Clifford Lytle, The Nations Within: The Past and Future American Indian Sovereignty (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984).

(6.) Ted Clemence, "Indians Not Taxed and the Census Apportionment Base," unpublished manuscript (US Census Bureau, 1981).

(7.) Ann L. Drees, "The Enumeration of the Indian Population in the Censuses of the United States, 1790-1960," report prepared for the History Division, US Census Bureau, 1968.

(8.) Drees, "The Enumeration."

(9.) US Census Bureau, "Characteristics of the Non-white Population by Race," Sixteenth Census of the United States: 1940, Population (Washington dc: Government Printing Office, 1943), 301, vi, 112.

(10.) Lewis B. Meriam, The Problem of Indian Administration (Baltimore MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 1928).

(11.) US Census Bureau, "General Report--Statistics by Subjects," Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930, Population, vol. 2, General Report (Washington dc: Government Printing Office, 1933), 1407.

(12.) Drees, "Enumeration."

(13.) Clemence, "Indians Not Taxed."

(14.) Deloria and Lytle, Nations Within.

(15.) Drees, "Enumeration," 10.

(16.) US Census Bureau, "American Indian Areas and Alaska Native Villages: 1980 Supplementary Report: US Census of the Population, 1980" (Washington dc: Government Printing Office, 1984), 9,

(17.) US Census Bureau, "American Indian Areas."

(18.) Jeffrey S. Passel and Patricia A. Berman, "Quality Of 1980 Census Data for American Indians," Social Biology 33, nos. 3-4 (1986): 163-82.

(19.) US Census Bureau, "American Indian Areas."

(20.) US Census Bureau, "The American Indian and Alaska Native Population: 2000," Census 2000 Brief, February 2002,; US Census Bureau, "The American Indian and Alaska Native Population: 2010," 2010 Census Briefs, January 2012,

(21.) US Census Bureau, "The American Indian and Alaska Native Population: 2010," 4.

(22.) Albert L. Wahrhaftig, "The Tribal Cherokee Population of Eastern Oklahoma," Current Anthropology 9 (December 1968): 510-18.

(23.) Kenneth R. Weber, "Demographic Shifts in Eastern Montana Reservation Counties: An Emerging Native American Political Power Base?," Journal of Ethnic Studies 16, no. 4 (1989): 101-16.

(24.) Henry F. Dobyns, "Native American Population Collapse and Recovery," in Scholars and the Indian Experience, ed. William R. Swagerty (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), 17-35.

(25.) Rob Capriccioso, "2010 Census: Indian Count Held Steady," Indian Country Today, April 28, 2011,; Marc Ramirez, "Census Bureau Tackles Undercount of Native Americans," Seattle Times, May 26, 2010,

(26.) Weber, "Demographic Shifts"; Dobyns, "Population Collapse"; Gary D. Sandefur and Arthur Sakamoto, "American Indian Household Structure and Income," Demography 25, no. 1 (1988): 71-80; Russell Thornton, American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History since 1492 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987); Matthew Snipp, "Who Are American Indians? Some Observations about the Perils and Pitfalls of Data for Race and Ethnicity," Population Research and Policy Review 5 (1989): 237-52; Theodore S. Jojola, "Profiling the Native American Community in Albuquerque: Assessing the Impacts of Census Undercounts and Adjustments" (Washington dc: US Census Monitoring Board, 2001),

(27.) William G. McLaughlin and Walter H. Conser Jr., "The Cherokees in Transition: A Statistical Analysis of the Federal Cherokee Census of 1835," Journal of American History 64, no. 3 (1977): 678-703; Martin Ira Glassner, "Population Figures for Mandan Indians," Indian Historian 7 (Spring 1974): 41-46; Cary W. Meister, "Historical Demography of the Pima and Maricopa Indians of Arizona (USA), 1846-1974" (PhD diss., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1975).

(28.) George A. Hillery Jr. and Frank J. Essene, "Navajo Population: An Analysis of the 1960 Census," Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 19, no. 3 (1963): 297-313.

(29.) David J. Fein, "The Social Sources of Racial and Ethnic Differences in Omission Rates in the 1980 US Census," preliminary draft, report prepared for the Statistical Research Division (Washington dc: US Census Bureau, 1989).

(30.) Van A. Reidhead, "Urban Indians in the St. Louis Area and the Census: A Statistical and Ethnographic Report of Investigations Following the 1988 Dress Rehearsal Census" (Washington dc: US Census Bureau, 1990), 142.

(31.) Lillian A. Ackerman, "Census and Ethnographic Enumeration in an Indian Population," Ethnographic Coverage Evaluation of the 1988 Dress Rehearsal Census Report 7, Final Report for Joint Statistical Agreement 88-10 with Washington State University at Pullman, 1989.

(32.) Lillian A. Ackerman, "Residential Mobility among the Colville Indians," Ethnographic Coverage Evaluation of the 1988 Dress Rehearsal Census Report, Preliminary Report for Joint Statistical Agreement 88-I0 with Washington State University at Pullman, 1988.

(33.) Nancy Bonvillain, "Residence Patterns at the St. Regis Reservation," Ethnographic Exploratory Research Report 5, Preliminary Report for Joint Statistical Agreement 89-15 with Research Foundation of the State University of New York, 1989.

(34.) Benny Atencio, telephone interview by author, August 1989.

(35.) US Commerce Department, US Census Bureau, "1980 Census of Population and Housing," 1980,

(36.) US Census Bureau, "Census Bureau Releases Estimates of Undercount and Overcount in the 2010 Census," May 22, 2012,

(37.) Kent Gilbreath, Red Capitalism: An Analysis of the Navajo Economy (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1973); Francis Paul Prucha, The Indian in American Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985); Theodore S. Jojola, "Census Ethnographic Research Project: Isleta Pueblo, New Mexico" (Washington dc: Center for Survey Methods Research, Bureau of the Census, 1992),; Susan Lobo, "Urban Clan Mothers Key Households in Cities," American Indian Quarterly 27, nos. 3-4 (2003): 505-22,

(38.) Lobo, "Urban Clan Mothers."

(39.) Jojola, "Census Ethnographic Research Project."

(40.) Ackerman, "Residential Mobility."

(41.) Jojola, "Census Ethnographic Research Project."

(42.) Prucha, The Indian in American Society; Ted Zuern, "Indian Nations, American Citizens," America 48, no. 21 (1983): 148, 412-16; Robert Jarvenpa, "The Political Economy and Political Ethnicity of American Indian Adaptations and Identities," Ethnic and Racial Studies 8, no. 1 (1985): 29-48.

(43.) Glassner, "Population Figures," 41-46.

(44.) Manuel de la Puente, "Census 2000 Topic Report No. 15: Census 2000 Testing, Experimentation, and Evaluation Programs, TR-15," 2004,

(45.) Ackerman, "Residential Mobility."

(46.) Reidhead, "Urban Indians," 142.

(47.) Snipp, "Who Are American Indians?"

(48.) US Census Bureau, "2007 American Indian and Alaska Native Tribal Consultations: Final Report," October 2008, v,

(49.) Lobo, "Urban Clan Mothers."

(50.) Ackerman, "Residential Mobility"; Bonvillain, "Residence Patterns."

(51.) Robert B. Hill, "Lessons Learned: How the New Administration Can Achieve an Accurate and Cost-Effective 2010 Census," testimony before the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security, March 5, 2009; US Census Bureau, "Census of Population and Housing-History," Planning the Census, chaps. 2-7, 1990,

(52.) US Census Bureau, "Census of Population and Housing--History," 177.

(53.) "Request for Nominations of Member to Serve on the Census Bureau National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic, and Other Population," Federal Register 77, no. 21 (March 21, 2012): 16535-36,

(54.) Tom Loo, REAC Memorandum, US Census Bureau, Program Coordinator, Office of External Engagement, March 21, 2012.

(55.) US Census Bureau, "American Indian and Alaska Native Areas," chap. 5,

(56.) US Census Bureau, "American Indian and Alaska Native Areas," chap. 5, n.d.; US Census Bureau, "Tribal Governments Liaison Program: Handbook for Tribes and Urban American Indian and Alaska Native Populations," May 2009,

(57.) US Census Bureau, "American Indian and Alaska Native Areas."

(58.) Susan A. Lavin and Pierre Gauthier, "Conducting a Census on American and Canadian Indian Reservations: Comparing Challenges and Solutions," Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the American Statistical Association, August 5-9, 2001,

(59.) US Census Bureau, "2007 American Indian and Alaska Native Tribal Consultations: Final Report," October 2008,

(60.) US Census Bureau, "2008 State-Recognized Tribes and American Indian and Alaska Native Organizations Working Meetings: Final Report," April 2009,; National Congress of American Indians, "NCAI, National Native Organizations Join US Census Bureau in Launching 'Indian Country Counts' Census Campaign," October 12, 2009,

(61.) National Congress of American Indians, "NCAI, National Native Organizations."

(62.) Norm DeWeaver, "The American Community Survey: Serious Implications for Indian Country," unpublished white paper, National Congress of American Indians, Policy Research Center, 2010.

(63.) Susan Lobo, "American Indians in the San Francisco Bay Area and the 1990 Census," Final Report for Joint Statistical Agreement 89-19, Ethnographic Exploratory Research Report 18, Washington DC, 1992,; Lobo, "Urban Clan Mothers"; Ackerman, "Census and Ethnographic Enumera tion"; Bonvillain, "Residence Patterns"; Jojola, "Census Ethnographic Research Project."

(64.) Executive Order 13084 of May 14, 1998, "Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments," Federal Register 63, no. 96 (May 19, 1998): 27655-57,, US Census Bureau, "Advertising Campaign," Census 2000,; US Census Bureau, "Tribal Governments Liaison Program."

(65.) US Census Bureau, US Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration, "1990 Census of Population and Housing: Guide Part A, Text" (Washington dc: Government Printing Office, 1992), 39-40,; "Institute of American Indian Arts," Bienvenidos, New Mexican, May 21, 1989, 91.

(66.) US Census Bureau, "Advertising Campaign," Census 2000.

(67.) Elizabeth McBride, "Census to Blanket Country with $300M Push: Massive Effort Uses pr, Events, Paid Media and Corrals 100,000 Partners," Advertising-Age, September 28, 2009,

(68.) US Census Bureau, EEO Office, "November 2011 Total Census Bureau Workforce Profile--as of Pay Period 24, Ending December 3, 2011," January 5, 2012.
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Author:Lujan, Carol Chiago
Publication:The American Indian Quarterly
Geographic Code:1U9AK
Date:Jun 22, 2014
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