Count Us In

December 1, 2020  • Institute Staff

Mandated by the US Constitution, the Census counts all people living in America every 10 years. The data collected determines funding for critical education and social-services programs. And for the past 150 years, Native people have been undercounted. This means minimal funding for improvements on reservation infrastructure, health care, and political representation in tribal communities. Though the Census Bureau has worked with tribes and organizations, and Congress has intervened, much of the burden of counting falls on the communities themselves. The Institute’s Center for Native American Youth has worked alongside the National Urban Indian Family Coalition and others to promote youth-led initiatives that help ensure tribal communities are accurately counted. CNAY launched a Generation Indigenous campaign called “Democracy is Indigenous” to train youth across the nation to support communitydriven action in a way that elevates Native American culture. All “Democracy is Indigenous” participants received micro-grant funding to support their initiatives.

Brandon Lujan (Taos Pueblo) created a youth council in his community of Taos, New Mexico. At 19, Lujan serves as youth chair for Taos Pueblo’s Census Committee. His efforts include advertising in the native language Tiwa, distributing Census gift bags to tribal members, and mobilizing youth to post Census flyers around the community. Another participant, JoRee LaFrance (Apsáalooke) empowers youth on the Crow Reservation. LaFrance created an initiative inviting youth to create murals that answer the question, “What does the Census and counting mean to me?” Participating youth were then required to have conversations about the Census with their entire family. LaFrance has also partnered with awardwinning artist Ben Pease to create a mural on display at the entrance to the reservation. Crow is one of the largest Indian reservations in the country, and the implications of undercounting her community are stark. Despite the current administration’s decision to end Census data collection early, Native youth continue to lead their tribal communities and remind them that they count.