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Census Reaches Out to American Indians, But Gaps Remain

New America Media, News Report, Video, Written by Jacob Simas // Video by Mike Siv, Odette Keeley and Jacob Simas Posted: Feb 27, 2010

LOS ANGELES The Two Rivers Tribune, a weekly newspaper serving the Hoopa Valley Tribe, recently received an ad campaign from the U.S. Census Bureau, but they werent happy about it. The ads featured images of tepees and urban cityscapes, neither of which reflected the culture or concerns of the Hupa people, whose community is situated in the redwoods of remote northern California.

If we would have run those ads, it would have been highly offensive, said Connie Davis, a staff writer at the Two Rivers Tribune. In fact, they might have had the reverse effect of less people in our community filling out the census questionnaire.

The Census Bureau has poured an unprecedented amount of money and time into reaching out to American Indians in anticipation of the 2010 decennial Census. But some Native Americans say the national ad campaign targeting their communities is too generic.

At a Feb. 16 meeting hosted by New America Media in Los Angeles, native media and community leaders met with census officials to discuss additional strategies to increase awareness of the 2010 Census among what has traditionally been one of the most undercounted segments of the national populace.

According to census records, the American Indian population increased faster than the total U.S. population between 1990 and 2000, with more than 4 million people identifying themselves as American Indian or Alaskan Native on the 2000 census questionnaire. Yet bureau officials believe the actual number to be much higher, and say a distrust of the government, general apathy toward the census, and an increase in migration from rural reservations to urban centers, has contributed to undercounts of native communities.

We urgently need the help of American Indian media, said James T. Christy, regional director for the U.S. Census in Los Angeles. Through your trusted voices, hopefully our message will be heard and we can achieve an accurate count of your communities.

With the 2010 census now officially underway, the Census Bureau is hoping to raise awareness of the census throughout Californias native communities, which are culturally diverse, physically fragmented, and due to a lack of dedicated media outlets, not easily reached by traditional media campaigns.

Rose Davis, editor of Indian Voices, a monthly newspaper headquartered in San Diego, noted that Census Bureau officials had attended several events in her community.

Im enjoying the refreshing opportunity of being reached out to, instead of reaching out, said Davis. For the first time, I feel we are making a big impact, to the extant that we are being approached, and thats great.

Because of the scarcity of American Indian media outlets in California, participants agreed to expand their outreach to include utilizing community bulletins, online news sites, social media, and newsletters generated by tribal governments to disseminate the message that the census matters for native communities.

Other ethnic media outlets expressed a willingness to help outreach to Californias American Indians. Since we have such close proximity, since we share the same demographics, since we share the same problems, we can also share the same medium to reach out to our communities, said John Banks, advertising director of the African-American weekly San Bernardino American.

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