Tribal Government & News

Grand Ronde leads all Oregon Tribes in getting members counted for census

11.30.2020 Danielle Harrison Federal government, Tribal employees, Tribal government


By Danielle Harrison

Smoke Signals staff writer

Despite a global pandemic, wildfires and an extended census deadline abruptly cut short by 16 days, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde still managed to count more of its members than any other Tribal nation in Oregon with a 78.5 percent response rate.

This is a more than 17 percent improvement over the 2010 census count. Additionally, the Tribe fared better overall than the state, which had a 69.2 percent response rate, according to Census Bureau data. Nationally, the Tribal response rate was approximately 41 percent.

“Tribal nations are historically undercounted in the United States census counts,” Grand Ronde Housing Administrative Program Manager Joan Dugger said. “The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde joined forces with our regional census representatives to make this year more successful.”

Dugger said that when the Tribe receives its final response rate in December, she is expecting it to be more than 80 percent.

In the 2010 census, Native Americans and Alaska Natives living on Reservations were undercounted by 4.9 percent, according to Census Bureau data.

To help increase participation, Dugger organized the Tribal Complete Count Committee. Other members included Social Services Manager Dana Leno, Employment Program Manager Michael Herrin, Local Census Representative Rita LaChance and Employment Program Administrative Assistant Angella Schultz.

“This was such a collaborative effort,” Dugger said. “There were so many people involved in so many ways. It’s been a huge privilege to be able to work with everyone and have the support of Tribal Council.”

During a virtual presentation to Tribal Council on Wednesday, Nov. 18, Dugger and committee members discussed the results and ideas for the future, including getting Tribal youth to understand why the census is important. 

“It seems like our Tribe always has a high percentage for response rates and I appreciate your coordination, camaraderie and abilities,” Tribal Council Vice Chair Jon A. George said. “It’s just a testament to your ability to work together and get this data.”

The U.S. Census Bureau faced additional obstacles this year with the COVID-19 pandemic cutting back on the ability to go door-to-door to obtain information from those who did not reply by mail, phone or Internet. The bureau asked for, and received, an extension of Oct. 31 to complete the count, but the Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration to cut the census short on Oct. 14.

As a result, census takers had to redouble their efforts to get people counted, especially in Tribal communities where response rates have historically been low and remained so during the pandemic as many Reservations took additional safety measures such as suspending door-knocking efforts.

With Grand Ronde Tribal offices closed for almost two months during the pandemic, and no door-to-door contact allowed, the committee had to rely on other methods to obtain responses: Multiple Tribal members were hired to phone direct to Tribal families all over the United States to conduct outreach; fliers were circulated at the Grand Ronde Food Bank, community bulletin boards and in Elder meal grab-and-go bags; and social media was utilized, virtual raffles were held for census completers and an outreach table was set up during Tribal Council elections.

Other efforts to get out the count included advertising through e-mail, Smoke Signals and Facebook, and working with state census representatives to narrow down the Grand Ronde Tribal members who had not yet completed their census forms.  

The September wildfires that ravaged Oregon, closed Tribal offices for several days and displaced some area residents further complicated counting efforts.

“Everyone worked so hard for so long as we felt this was so important for our Tribe,” Dugger said. “In spite of everything that was in our way, we refused to concede, give up or be discouraged.  We just kept coming up with new ways to get Tribal members to respond. It was truly a great team. Everyone worked together to achieve this goal.”

Other Tribal response rates in Oregon include the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, 62.5 percent; Coquille Indian Tribe, 61.5 percent; Confederated Tribes of Umatilla, 56.7 percent; Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, 61.3 percent; Klamath Tribes, 46.2 percent; Burns Paiute Tribe, 46 percent; Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, 45.6 percent; and Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians, 39.2 percent. 

Tribal Council member Denise Harvey thanked the committee for its efforts and recalled the challenges when she was tasked with leading the census effort in 2010.

“Your report is amazing,” she said. “In 2010, I was a one-man band. I really appreciate all of the efforts you guys made and helping people understand why it is important.”   

Dugger has said each census response is worth approximately $3,200 to Tribal grant-funded programs that benefit members.

Going forward, Dugger says it will be important to continue to utilize Tribal media for public outreach, develop a call team, hold raffles with an increased budget for prizes, create a role for Elders, and increase outreach to younger audiences about why it is important to participate in the census.

The U.S. Constitution requires that the federal government conduct a census every 10 years to determine how many people are living in the United States. Census numbers help determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives, and help directs where billions of dollars in federal funding go for hospitals, fire departments, schools, roads and other services.