BISMARCK — Ensuring every citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa is counted in the 2020 census is essential because it will affect future generations to come, the nation's chairman said in a conference call on Tuesday, July 21.

Jamie Azure took part in a remote media briefing held by the U.S. Census Bureau in which it provided updates about outreach efforts in Native American communities across the country. The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa chairman said the tribal nation was undercounted in 2010, and it is taking its own action to incite citizens to take the census this year and make sure the tribe has updated, accurate population numbers.

"This is the new age for sovereign nations and this is how we move forward," Azure said Tuesday. "This is how we move forward through economic development all the way through social service programs, and the numbers are just so important."

In the 2010 census, the Indigenous population on reservations was the most undercounted of any group in the U.S., with 4.9% not being tallied, according to the Census Bureau.

American Indians and Alaska Natives were not counted in the first six censuses (1790-1850), according to a report by the National Congress of American Indians. The Indigenous population today is considered an "at-risk" category for being undercounted for reasons like a lack of culturally knowledgeable census takers, language barriers and resistance to federal government activities.

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In addition, "the 2020 Census data will be used to determine the allocation of congressional seats, redistricting for voting, and may impact the distribution of almost $1 billion in annual federal resources for Indian Country," the report states.

Azure said on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, much of the undercount in censuses can be attributed to historical trauma and people being weary about giving out personal information.

"Information has been passed down from generation to generation, and that has been from our elders passing it down to the next generations," Azure said. "The historical trauma still lays in the weeds a little bit because of that."

The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa had a population of about 8,600 on its reservation a decade ago, according to the Census. Now, there are about 15,000 to 16,000 members living on and around the reservation, Azure said.

According to the Census Bureau, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa has about a 19% self-response rate, while the national self-response rate is about 62%. This difference can be attributed to the tribe only recently receiving its forms as a result of delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, said Cathy Lacy, the Census Bureau Denver Region director.

Lacy said beginning Aug. 11, census takers will go to households in tribal nations that have not responded along with handheld devices to complete the 10-minute questionnaire. The census takers will abide by social distancing guidelines and wear proper personal protective equipment, including face masks.

In an effort to accurately count tribes across the country, the Census Bureau is hiring tribal members as census takers to gain the community's trust to take part, Lacy said Tuesday.

Azure said about 100 Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa members have been hired as Census employees who will go door-to-door in full PPE to the households that have not responded.

"This is how we rise as a nation... and we will do everything we can to make sure our numbers go up," Azure said.