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Census Has Difficulty Tracking Native Americans

Editor's note: In this report, we stated that there are 18 Indian tribes in San Diego County. We should have stated there are 18 Indian reservations. We regret the error.

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Video published May 28, 2010 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: The 2010 Census count is expected to wrap up by July. Now, the final door to door march is on to reach those who haven't been counted. KPBS Reporter Dwane Brown explains why it is difficult for the Census to count one of the smallest population groups in the county: Native Americans.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): The 2010 Census count is expected to wrap up by July. Officials say about 70 percent of state and local households have sent back their mail-in forms, and now the final door-to-door march is on to reach those who haven't been counted. KPBS Reporter Dwane Brown gives us a closer look at the difficulty of counting one of the smallest population groups in the county -- Native Americans.

DWANE BROWN (KPBS Reporter): A casino is about as far as most of us have gone on an Indian reservation. Many of these popular resorts are in remote areas of the county, where just getting there can be a crapshoot. 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 10 times the size of Balboa Park. There are some street names, but no addresses for hundreds of homes, making an accurate count more difficult. Robert Smith grew up here. He's the tribal chairman. How would you describe the Census count so far?

ROBERT SMITH (Tribal Chairman of Pala Indian Reservation): I think it's going to be inaccurate because they don't cross every 't' or dot every 'i' on the reservations. We're scattered, we're remote. I think if they would communicate more with the tribe they would have a better count.

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

SMITH: 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 everybody involved because the numbers were really low and that's what determines funding for people.

BROWN: The last Census count showed the Native American population in San Diego County was about 1 percent. What was the biggest problem 10 years ago?

SMITH: I think the form was too long, and there was not really outreach, you know. They hire a lot of people, which is good, they have temporary jobs, but a lot of people -- you give them training but they don't come and meet with reservations like ours and find out where we are, where we live, how we function as a government.

BROWN: There are 18 Indian tribes in San Diego County. Ralph Marchewka knows the importance of getting an accurate count. He's the regional manager for the Census.

RALPH MARCHEWKA (Census Regional Manager): In my office, we had multiple Indian reservations, we had Sycuan and Barona, Campo, Manzanita, La Posta, Viejas, Cuyapaipe, and we were able to successfully conduct our numerations for all the reservations we had in our area.

BROWN: 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.

LUIS NATIVIDAD (Census Partner Specialist): I work from San Ysidro all the way to Fallbrook, all my years, organizing different things, so they knew me there. So that helped a lot.

BROWN: 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 American, and that's a breach of protocol.

NATIVIDAD: You usually don't go to somebody's house and start asking 'How many people live here?' and what have you, without going through the council, or to the chief, or to somebody who they appointed as the representative of the tribe to deal with us.

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

PENNER: That was KPBS' Dwane Brown. And next on San Diego Week we'll bring you a report on the changing demographics of San Diego County, and how that will impact the Census count.


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