U.S. Census Bureau workers and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe were determined to get an accurate count for 2020.
“We were undercounted last time, so it was a real focus this year to track everyone down,” said tribal member Vida Clark, a recruiter assistant for the Census Bureau. “This time, we we’re 100% accounted for.”
Exact figures will be released in 2021.
An accurate count was critical because it determines grant awards for public services, job training, roads, housing, education and social services, she said.
“It takes education and persistence. Once people understood the importance of it, we had good participation.”
COVID-19 restrictions and fears of the disease threatened to derail the effort, and initial counting events that involved groups were canceled.
Many tribal areas, including the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, restricted access to communities to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
However, census workers were allowed in with precautions.
“We adjusted to their directives and followed their guidelines, and they gave us permission to continue census operations,” said Coralys Ruiz Jimenez, tribal media specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau.
Census workers for the tribe adjusted by holding 10 drive-thru counting events in Towaoc and White Mesa, Utah. While in their vehicles, residents were handed laptop computers to fill out the census forms.
“We had just begun, then the pandemic hit. Answering a knock on the door during this time made some people nervous, but they were OK with the drive-thru,” Clark said.
The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe started out with 10 census staff, which included six tribal members. Clark said having tribal members on board made communication easier for the tight-knit community suspicious of outsiders.
Census workers canvassed 600 households in Towaoc and in White Mesa, the Ute Mountain Ute reservation community in southeast Utah.
The population on reservation of Montezuma County has been growing, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2018, the population was estimated at 1,655, up from 1,588 residents counted in 2010, a 4% increase.
Jimenez said American Indian and Alaska Native communities were undercounted in 2010.
“That is the reason why it is so important for us to make sure that we get an accurate and complete count of Indian Country,” she said. “Our tribes do not provide enrollment numbers to the U.S. Census Bureau, so we need to respond and make sure we are all counted.”
An accurate count of Native American communities in the U.S. contributes to better planning and decision-making for Indian Country, and it helps determine how billions of dollars in federal funding is distributed to communities and tribes for programs, block grants and grants.
“We are talking about health care clinics, Medicaid, Medicare, CHIP, SNAP, TANF, WIC, Head Start, roads, housing, water and sewer programs, schools, Pell grants, among many more,” Jimenez said.
As a thank-you to tribal members for participating in the census, the Ute Mountain Ute tribe hosted a drive-thru potluck Oct. 5. About 250 people were served to-go meals of meals of brisket, barbecue ribs, corn, watermelon and bread.