For the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau wanted to improve the accuracy of how many American Indians live in Minnesota, so they went to tribal leadership in order to find out the best way to get a complete count.
According to the handbook for the Census Bureau’s Tribal Liaison Program, the bureau signed its first ever American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) policy in October of 2008. Key principal statements of this policy include recognizing tribal government as “a functional governing body”, recognizing and inviting tribal government involvement, and recognizing that there are distinct tribal protocols, cultural values, practices, religious beliefs, traditions, climate conditions as well as a tribe’s authority over its land areas that must be considered and abided by when conducting any census or survey in AIAN areas.
Sydnee Chattin, Census Deputy Regional Director for the region that includes Minnesota. who is herself a member of the Blackfeet Nation, said that that the bureau asked each of the tribes which type of enumeration (or counting) would work best. The options for enumeration included the Mail-Out-Mail-Back (MOMB) method, which means sending the census forms by mail, the Update-Enumerate (UE) method, which means that Census workers go door to door and ask individuals the census questions right then and there, and Update-Leave (UL) method, which means the census worker would drop off the census forms at households for individuals to mail back.
“The designation of enumeration methods for tribal lands is very complicated,” wrote Craig Best, Assistant Regional Census Manager, in an email. “For example, the Red Lake Reservation is comprised of one large land tract around Red Lake where we use the UE method. There are also hundreds of small tracts of Red Lake land spread throughout northern Minnesota where we use UL. However, nearly all of these small tracts are uninhabited.”
Best explained that in the case of Prairie Island, the census plan was to use UE exclusively. However, the tribe subsequently made changes to their boundary, so some of their lands included an MOMB area.
The Census Bureau used at least partial MOMB for six of the 12 American Indian lands in Minnesota. The return rate of surveys for Indian lands included: 67% from Prairie Island, 48% from Shakopee, 74% from Fond Du Lac, 44% from White Earth, 43% from Mille Lacs, and 100% from Leech Lake. (The high percentage response was due to the small number of surveys mailed out, according to Sydnee Chattin.)
Chattin said that the majority of enumeration done with tribal lands was with the UE method. The Lower Sioux, Grand Portage, Boise Forte, and Upper Sioux used this method exclusively. Fond du Lac, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, Sandy Lake, White Earth, Prairie Island, and Red Lake used UE in combination with other methods.
“We’ve had a phenomenal response,” Chattin said, in speaking of the communication the census bureau has had with tribal leadership. “They all clearly understood the importance of an accurate count.”
Danny Harjo, the Census Tribal Liaison for Prairie Island Indian Community, said that the tribal leaders from Prairie Island made a concerted effort to assure residents that the census enumerators were not going to cause harm. “Some people are sensitive to outsiders,” he said. “We made sure the community was well informed, that they knew that it was okay,” he said. One important strategy Harjo mentioned was to involve the elders in the process, in some cases becoming enumerators themselves. Tribal leaders also published information about the census in their monthly newsletter, and posted fliers in community buildings.
While we wait for the hopefully more accurate results of this year’s census, here’s some of what the American Community Survey tells us about the American Indian population in Minnesota:
There are 52,422 American Indians or Alaska Natives (AIAN) in Minnesota according to the 2008 American Community Survey (ACS), or about 1.2 percent of the total population. There are 86,076 AIAN if you count those who are also of another race. The largest number of American Indians are Ojibwe, of whom there are 33,019. The second largest group are Dakota, of whom there are 5,369. There are also 1,209 Cherokee and 64 Navaho, according to ACS.