Klamath Tribes make sure they’re counted

Klamath Tribes make sure they’re counted

Promotional material from the Klamath Tribes Census Assistance Center.

For more information on the tribal census follow us on Facebook at: The Klamath Tribes Census Assistance Center 2020

For More Information, Contact:

Census Assistance Ambassador, Ginette Lewis at 541-783-2219 ext. 248 or 541-576-4017

Klamath Tribal Council Census Representative, Willa Powless at 541-238-4073

Klamath Tribal News Dept. Manager, Taylor Tupper at 541-783-2219 ext. 147

Ginette Lewis has been knocking on doors and making hundreds of calls over the past few months, all to spread the good word of the 2020 U.S. Census.

As the Klamath Tribes Census Assistance Center Ambassador, she said her job is to tell local tribal people how important it is for them to be counted. She typically helps about 20 people a day fill out the form with demographic information about their households, whether it’s over the phone or in person at the socially-distanced assistance center.

Ten years ago, only 38 members of the Klamath Tribes responded to the U.S. Census. This time around, with improved support from the Census Bureau, tribal leadership is committed to making that number much higher.

“Personally, I didn’t know how important it was until I started doing this,” Lewis said. She remembered Census takers coming to her door growing up and participating in the count, but it wasn’t until she began working on the Klamath Tribes’ Census efforts that she realized just how much of a positive impact an accurate count can have on the community.

Each year, the federal government appropriates approximately $1 billion to tribal nations to fund social services like education, housing and health—support for which is outlined in most treaties between the U.S. and tribes. Demographic data obtained from the Census will shape how much money each tribe receives for the next 10 years, making an accurate count of each community crucial.

In Klamath, Census dollars support schoolchildren in Chiloquin (roughly 70 percent of them are Klamath Tribal members), a tribal-run bus service and programming for elders, among other social programs. For decades, that money was appropriated to the Klamath Tribes based on the assumption that fewer than 40 people would use them.

Willa Powless, census liaison for the Klamath Tribes, called that a “complete injustice” and a reason for the tribes’ robust campaign this year.

“This is, by far, the largest effort the Klamath Tribes have ever taken to promote the census,” she said. The tribes have established a “Complete Count Committee,” which coordinates outreach efforts to promote the Census to the community. They also received a grant to set up the census assistance center.

Powless said the committee had planned large gatherings — like a Census Day event on April 1 or a Census booth at the annual Restoration Celebration in August — to rally the community around the count, but they had to cancel them due to the pandemic. While it’s been a tough adjustment, she said their campaign of social media posts and incentives for members who fill out their Census forms has still been effective. They’ve already gotten way more than 38 responses.

While some tribal nations base their response rates on total enrollment numbers (most of whom would live on-reservation), the Klamath have members spread out across the world—due in part to the tribes’ termination in 1954. Along with the lack of a formal reservation, that makes counting everyone more complicated.

Taylor Tupper, news department manager for the Klamath Tribes, said the Census effort has two goals: Count every single person living in tribal housing in Klamath County, and get non-local tribal members to fill out the Census wherever they are. The first goal, she said, won’t just be a benefit to the tribe. “It’s kind of like a ripple effect,” Tupper said. “If the tribes benefit, if we get our Census numbers up, then the community benefits.”

Lewis spends much of her time making sure everyone in tribal-owned housing in Chiloquin, Beatty and Klamath Falls fills out a Census form. So far, she’s counted 264 members who live in tribal housing and is planning on reaching out to many more, including elders. Being from the area, Lewis said she was able to get in touch with many households just by word of mouth.

Undercounted by approximately 4.9 percent in the 2010 census (more than twice the rate of any other demographic group), tribal nations are considered “hard-to-count” communities by the Census Bureau. They’ve experienced centuries of oppression at the hands of the federal government, which makes some members hesitant to provide personal information through the Census even though the responses are confidential. Tribal lands are often rural and isolated, making it difficult for mail or Census takers to reach them. Powless said several Klamath tribal members may be out at camp for the summer and not at home to fill out the form. “Our people are still kind of nomadic in some sense,” she said. “Sometimes you just can’t track someone down.”

Despite tribes being sovereign nations residing within the U.S., a government-to-government collaboration on the Census is only a recent development. Between 1890 and 1950, Census takers would even categorize people as “American Indian” simply based on their own observations. The 1980 Census was the first time the U.S. consulted with tribes on how they would like to be counted, and it resulted in a massive improvement in counts from the previous Census.

There’s still room for improvement, but Powless said the Census Bureau has taken a real initiative in recent decades to empower tribes. In 2010, they hired Tribal Partnership Specialists to support tribes and work with them on best practices for counting. Powless said Shana McConville Radford, Tribal Partnerships Specialist for Oregon and Idaho with the U.S. Census Bureau and a citizen of the Umatilla Tribe, has been instrumental in that support. Through weekly meetings with Radford, tribal Census Liaisons have been able to field ideas and receive individualized guidance on their efforts to increase counts. “It’s been a really good partnership,” Powless said. “The Census Bureau’s really stepped up this time.”

“Historically, we haven’t been good as a Census Bureau in that sense of engaging in meaningful consultation,” Radford said. “We need our own people to work directly with us.”

The Trump Administration threw a curveball in Census efforts on Monday, though, when Census Bureau leadership announced that the response deadline would be moved up a month to September 30. Given the late start many tribes got due to the pandemic, this makes hard-to-count communities even harder to count. Powless said it’s made a big impact on their efforts, and the Complete Count Committee is meeting to determine how they’ll ramp up efforts to make the deadline.

Radford acknowledged that the change puts a lot of pressure on tribes. She has yet to come up with a plan for how Oregon and Idaho tribes can work with the new deadline, but she remains optimistic.

“That’s the directive that we have, and I’m going to stick around as long as I can to help them through it,” she said.

Article By ALEX SCHWARTZ H&N Staff Reporter

*Photos/Art provided by: Klamath News Dept. & Tribal Census Committee


Ms. Taylor R. Tupper

The Klamath Tribes

Public Info/News Dept. Manager

501 Chiloquin, Blvd

Chiloquin, OR 97624

Cell: 541-891-3686

Work: 541-783-2219 ext. 147


Small We Count Oregon Logo

Artwork by Asa Wright