Tribal efforts to boost Census participation add up
Arizona’s Pima Indian population tripled in the last decade, according to the latest Census figures, but it’s not necessarily because there were more tribe members — just more tribe members filling out their Census forms.
Following the lead of a successful Navajo push to get more members counted in the 2000 Census, other tribes around the state made a dedicated effort to get people counted in the 2010 Census. And it appears to have paid off, with the state’s Indian population up more than 15 percent in the decade.
Delia Carlyle, council member for the Ak-Chin Indian Community, said the reasons for increased numbers of Native Americans are the same as for the general population.
“I think it’s the same issue: It’s all about funding,” Carlyle said.
She said the Navajo Nation’s success a decade ago resulted in more federal funding and representation for that tribe.
“It’s been dependent on Census numbers,” Carlyle said. “So we’d only get funding for 400 members instead of everyone (in the tribe).”
For the Pima people – the Ak-Chin Indian Community is one of three areas in the state in where they reside – the improved numbers were staggering.
Pima Indians showed the biggest percentage increase among tribe in the state, going from 6,438 in 2000 to 19,455 people in 2010. That is an increase of 13,017 people, or 202 percent.
It is by far the largest increase for any of the Arizona tribes in the 2010 Census, at least among those people who identified themselves as belonging to one tribe only.
The Yaqui tribe, in southern Arizona, were next with a 41 percent increase, while the Tohono O’odham, Apache and Navajo tribes all had single-digit percentage increases.
The Navajo still made up the biggest portion of the 292,139 Arizona residents who listed one tribe alone, at 45 percent of the total. All other tribes were less than 10 percent of the state total.
Arizona Senior State Demographer Jim Chang would not speculate on reasons behind the spike in Indian populations, but he was certain of one thing: “These numbers are not from natural causes,” Chang said.
Carlyle and others agreed. The increase was largely due to their enrollment efforts, they said.
“It was a good active effort in getting people involved in the Census. There’s been good outreach,” said John Lewis, executive director of the Arizona Inter Tribal Council and member of the Colorado Indian Tribes.
Carlyle was charged with educating Native Americans on her reservation as well as other places about the census, and why a good Native American turnout is important.
Actually achieving that turnout was an issue, she said. Areas in some reservations are extremely remote, which makes counting every person harder than Census officials thought.
Where officials in the West region Census office in Denver may have seen a road on a map, “sometimes it’s not the case,” Carlyle said.
“If it rains, a road that used to be there may be gone. Houses move. Trailers move,” she said. “Things have changed in 10 years.”
Overcoming the hurdle of decades-old distrust of the federal government was also a problem.
Arizonans were helped this time by the fact that they could pencil in their tribe. They had to choose from a list in 2000, and Carlyle said there weren’t enough specific tribes on it, leading some people to be lumped in with other tribes.
Carlyle said her people have continually been undercounted. She said that’s changing now, and she hopes even bigger strides will be made in the next decade.
“We need to be represented to the country, and this is a better way of identifying yourself and who you really are,” she said.