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Census Makes Final Push To Reach The Uncounted

— The 2010 census count is expected to wrap up by July. Officials say 71 percent of California households sent back their mail-in forms. And about 70 percent of San Diego County households did the same.

Now the final door-to-door march is on to reach those who haven't been counted. I took a closer look at the difficulty of counting one of the smallest population groups in the county - Native Americans.

A casino is about as far as most of us have gone on an Indian reservation. Many of these popular gambling resorts are in remote areas of the county, where just getting there can be a crap shoot.

Before gambling, agriculture was the main source of revenue for the Pala Indian Reservation. The largest in San Diego County - with a casino in the background, this reservation covers 12,000 acres. That’s ten times the size of Balboa Park. There are some street names, but no addresses for hundreds of homes, making an accurate count even more difficult. Robert Smith grew up here. He’s the tribal chairman.

“How would you describe the census count so far?” said KPBS Reporter Dwane Brown.

“I think it’s going to be inadequate because they haven't crossed every T or dotted every I on the reservation,” Tribal Chairman Robert Smith said. “We're scattered, we're remote and if they communicated more with the tribe we'd have a better count."

An accurate count is important because it helps determine how $400 billion in federal grant money is distributed to communities over the next decade. State and city budgets hit by the recession get a financial infusion based on the number of people counted. State and city budgets hit by the recession get a financial infusion based on the number of people counted. The money helps pay for healthcare clinics, education and transportation.

“If it isn't done correctly we're going to fall back on the census that was 10 years ago, which was really bad for everyone involved, because the numbers determine funding for people,” Smith said.

The last census count showed the Native American population in San Diego County was about one percent.

“What was the biggest problem 10 years ago?” said Brown.

“I think the form was too long and there was no community outreach,” Smith continued.”They hire a lot of people, which is really good for temporary jobs. They give them training, but they don't come and meet with reservations like ours to find out where we are, where we live and how we function as a government.”

There are 18 Indian reservations in San Diego County. Ralph Marchewka knows the importance of getting an accurate count. He’s the regional manager for the census.

“In my office we had multiple Indian reservations,” said Marchewka. “We had Sycuan, Barona, Campo, Manzanita, Lo Posta, Viejas, Wiepi. We were able to successfully conduct all the enumerations for all the reservations we had in our area.”

Marchewka says they were able to do that because his team used mostly Native Americans to conduct the count on reservations. The census also hired community specialists like Luis Natividad because he knows how to put people at ease, clearing the way for census takers.

“I've worked from San Ysidro all the way to Fallbrook all my years,” Natividad said. “Organizing different things so they knew me and that helped a lot.”

Natividad says he has an idea of what went wrong on the Pala Indian Reservation. He says like visitors to the casino, many of the census takers weren’t Native Americans, and that’s a breach of protocol.

“You just don't go to people's house and ask how many people live here without going through the council or the chief or to somebody who they appointed as the representative of the tribe to deal with us,” said Natividad.

So, what do you look for if a census worker knocks on your door? A badge, a bag and a binder. All have census logo on it. And you’ll also receive a confidential form to ensure your personal information remains private.

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