Bill John Baker

As citizens of the United States, we have a responsibility to participate in the United States Census, a national roll call mandated by the United States Constitution. As citizens of the Cherokee Nation, it is even more important because the U.S. Census is used to allocate funding for the programs and services that are essential to our people. In the coming months, Cherokee Nation will be working to educate our citizens, our employees and our communities about the importance of participating in the Census.

Native people have been historically underrepresented in the Census. The Census Bureau estimates that in the last Census of 2010, American Indians were undercounted by about 5%, which is more than double the undercount rate of the next closest population group. There are areas in Adair, Cherokee, Delaware and Sequoyah counties that had less than a 30% participation rate in the 2010 Census. Because these areas have a high density of Cherokee households, it is imperative that we educate our citizens about how important it is to respond to the Census so they are not underrepresented in the future.

Why is it important that Cherokee Nation and all tribes take part in the Census? Because federal funding will be based on the 2020 Census, we have made it a high priority to work with the Census to ensure that its information is reliable and accurate. Funding for Indian schools, education programs, health programs, housing programs, infrastructure development and economic development efforts is distributed based on data collected by the Census. This federal money supports our most vulnerable citizens, including those who are low-income, veterans and senior citizens.

In Oklahoma, for every person missed by the Census, we lose more than $1,100 a year in federal program dollars. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the U.S. Census failed to count nearly 1 million children younger than 5 in its 2010 data collection. Employment insecurity, households in poverty, education levels attained and the accurate population of young children are notoriously difficult to count, especially in rural areas. We will again partner with the Census Bureau to help ensure our population receives accurate representation in the 2020 data.

For housing formulas, the number of residents, their income level, the cost of housing and housing conditions all count toward how much money a tribal government receives for housing programs. The formula is complex, and we have so much riding on a complete and accurate response to the Census. Census data also determines funding for Indian health care, creating a huge impact on health services in tribal communities. Diabetes, addiction, mental health, heart disease and cancer are only a few of the health problems we are facing, and a true population count is the only way we can secure the funding to successfully address these health disparities.

In addition to the billions of dollars that will fund tribal government programs across the country over the next 10 years, the data plays a key role in fair voting representation, as the results of the Census determine the allocation of congressional seats.

Data from the 2020 Census will influence public policy and tribal programs for generations to come. Cherokee Nation will be advocating for our citizens to participate. A better count is one positive step we can make to support our tribal government and all of northeast Oklahoma. Vital funding happens when our citizens are counted. I challenge all Cherokees to participate in the 2020 Census and make a positive difference.

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