Native Americans were undercounted in the 2020 census

HELENA — The US census provides a snapshot of the country’s population that helps guide government decisions for the next ten years. However, a report shows that the most recent census may have significantly undercounted several population groups — including, particularly in Montana, Native Americans.

The US Census Bureau released an analysis of the quality of the 2020 census data last month. They determined that the country’s overall population figures were fairly accurate, especially given the difficulties in counting during the pandemic. .

“Today’s results show statistical evidence that the quality of the 2020 Census total population count is consistent with that of recent censuses,” Census Bureau Director Robert Santos said in a statement. press at the time. “This is remarkable, given the unprecedented challenges of 2020. But the results also include some limitations – the 2020 census undercounted many of the same population groups that we have historically undercounted, and it has overestimated others.”

The bureau’s post-enumeration survey finds that black and Hispanic populations were underestimated, while white Asian and non-Hispanic populations were overestimated.

The largest gap observed for all racial groups was among Native American and Alaska Native populations living on reservations, with an estimated undercount of 5.64%. This is an ongoing problem, as the same group was underestimated by 4.88% in the 2010 census.

“In 2020, especially once COVID hit, we weren’t very Pollyanna about what the effect was going to be,” said Ta’jin Perez, deputy director of Western Native Voice.

Groups like WNV worked with the state of Montana in 2020, as part of a statewide effort to encourage people to fill out the census. Perez says there were particular challenges to relying on tribal lands, including strict COVID policies, widely dispersed populations, general distrust of government and an insufficient number of enumerators from local communities.

If any members of the Montana tribe were missed in the census, it could have lasting effects. Demographics play an important role in the allocation of federal funds.

“Funding that goes to Indian Country is directly tied to the census and the individuals who can be claimed as tribal members, as well as the individuals in general who live within those communities,” Perez said.

The census results will also be used to draw Montana’s updated legislative districts. Perez thinks the undercount could impact the influence of Indigenous voters.

“There really is a risk, the possibility of underrepresentation of Native Americans in our legislature, which would be a rollback of the progress that has been fought for generations thus far,” he said. “So it really has far-reaching consequences.”

The Census Bureau says the off-reservation Native American and Alaska Native populations weren’t as greatly undercounted, but Perez said it’s always been difficult to fully count those populations in Montana.

“In our opinion, it is very difficult to determine whether or not there has been an undercount, but this is a great opportunity to highlight the fact that urban Aboriginal people are very underrepresented when it comes to is about advocating for Indigenous interests,” he said.

At a news conference after the data was released, Census Bureau leaders said they plan to work closely with tribes in the coming years in hopes of reducing mistrust and creating partnerships to obtain a more precise count of reservations.

Nohemi M. Moore