Census Recruitment Lagging on Utah Strip Of Navajo Nation | KUER 90.1

Census Recruitment Lagging on Utah Strip Of Navajo Nation

Nov 25, 2019

GALLUP, N.M. — Most people in the United States will receive a letter in the spring asking them to fill out the 2020 census online. But residents of the Navajo Nation will receive a paper questionnaire, hand-delivered to their door. That means the Census Bureau must recruit workers to visit every home on the reservation. 

Arbin Mitchell is the 2020 census partnership specialist for the Navajo Nation. He’s in charge of recruiting at least 169 people to apply to be census workers on the Navajo reservation in San Juan County. So far, 65 people have signed up, he said, which is less than half the number of applicants the Census Bureau determined should be recruited by now. 

“If we don’t get enough people [in San Juan County], we’ll have to bring them up from Arizona,” he said. “And we don’t want to do that.” 

Mitchell said it’s important to hire local workers on the Navajo Nation because they know the community, and that can lead to a more complete count. 

“You know, Grandpa, Grandma will probably recognize the folks standing at the door. If this stranger is standing at the door, they probably won’t open the door; they’ll be hesitant to answer any questions,” he said. 

This holds true across Indian Country, according to Mitchell, who oversaw the census on the Navajo Nation in 2000. 

“Any time there’s a government operation, there’s always a hesitancy,” he said, adding that education about the purpose of the census can also help combat this. 

The 2010 census numbers showed the Navajo Nation’s population shrinking for the first time in history, according to a report produced by the Census Bureau in consultation with the Tribe. But the Navajo Nation claims that was due to an undercount. In the report, Navajo Nation officials said that the 2010 census findings led to a loss of funding for Tribal programs, as well as a reduction in the number of representatives in the Tribal government. 2020 data will also affect how voting districts are redrawn in 2021.

“It is important for the Navajo Nation to work toward a successful 2020 census, especially since the 2010 census did not receive proper attention from the Navajo Nation and seems to have produced inaccurate data,” Tribal official Larry Rodgers said in the report

The 2010 census numbers showed the Navajo Nation’s population shrinking for the first time in history, according to a report produced by the Census Bureau in consultation with the Tribe. But the Navajo Nation claims that was due to an undercount. In the report, Navajo Nation officials said that the 2010 census findings led to a loss of funding for Tribal programs, as well as a reduction in the number of representatives in the Tribal government. 2020 data will also affect how voting districts are redrawn.

“It is important for the Navajo Nation to work toward a successful 2020 census, especially since the 2010 census did not receive proper attention from the Navajo Nation and seems to have produced inaccurate data,” Tribal official Larry Rodgers said in the report. 

This time, the Census Bureau started preparing earlier than it did for than for the 2010 census. And the Navajo Nation has established a Complete Count Committee, which didn’t happen last time. The committee is made up of Tribal representatives from around the Navajo Nation, and will help the Bureau spread the message about the importance of the census.

Educational efforts for prior census counts are paying off, according to Mitchell, who said more people know about the census now than in 2000 or 2010. 

“I attended all the Navajo Nation fairs this year,” Mitchell said. “And I tell Grandpa and Grandma, ‘2020 census, don’t forget to be counted.’ And they’ll say ‘Is it that time again?’ They’re aware of it.” 

Mitchell said he plans to step up recruitment efforts in San Juan County in the coming months. So far, he has relied on local officials to ask people to sign up.

Kate Groetzinger is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southeast Bureau in San Juan County.