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Tribal leaders seek accurate census counts on reservations

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North Dakota tribal leaders gathered Tuesday to map out a campaign to help ensure their reservations aren't shortchanged in the 2020 census.

Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Mike Faith told the group during a trbial summit at United Tribes Technical College that his tribe has allocated $50,000 "for the purpose of helping get a true count." The money will be used for advertising about the upcoming survey, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

Faith said accurate numbers are important to get funding for road repairs, health, housing and schools, among other things. "We depend on that financial assistance," he said.

In addition to helping to determine federal spending, census numbers are used to determine seats in Congress and statehouses. Faith said he hopes the 2020 census numbers will be used for the redistricting of state representatives and senators. The Standing Rock Tribe has only one district in the Legislature.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated American Indians and Alaska Natives were undercounted by 4.9% in the 2010 census.

Tribal leaders and others said there challenges in getting an accurate census count in Indian Country, including the remoteness of reservations. Some of the tribal members aren't helping their own cause, mainly because they are worried that the government is going to use the numbers against them, said Wayne Ducheneaux II, executive director of the Minnesota-based Native Governance Center.

Ducheneaux, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, recalled how in 2010 census workers visited a hotel he was working at on the reservation and shared stories about some residents releasing their dogs to attack them.

"No one is going to use that information to hurt you; it's only going to be used to help you," Ducheneaux said, adding that census surveys are kept confidential under federal law.

North Dakota officials earlier this year created a task force to assist with planning for the upcoming census. Officials say missing someone in the census can result in losing about $19,000 in federal funding. The Complete Count Task Force, formed through an executive order signed by Gov. Doug Burgum, includes a tribal subcommittee.