Accuracy Is Victory: NAIHC and Census Bureau to Improve Tribal Data
A memorandum of understanding was signed February 26 by National American Indian Housing Council (NAIHC) Chairwoman Cheryl Causley and Census Bureau Deputy Director Nancy Potok that is aimed at increasing response rates to the Tribal Boundary and Annexation Survey (BAS), an annual Census Bureau survey that collects and maintains information about legal boundaries as well as the names and official status of federally recognized American Indian reservations.
Accurate boundaries help the federal government know the size and scope of reservations, as well as how many Indians are residing on reservations. The federal executive and legislative branches often use such data to make funding decisions related to tribes. Tribes also sometimes use the data when legal issues arise surrounding their borders.
“The crux of [the agreement] is to ensure that tribes have accurate boundaries,” says Shawn Pensoneau, a governmental affairs specialist with NAIHC. “That has been a problem over the years—some communities have been left out, so the Census does not have an accurate picture of those reservations.”
Pensoneau says that when tribal boundaries are not surveyed correctly, the number of tribal citizens can be undercounted, thus resulting in reduced funding for tribes. He also says it is important for there to be “consistency” between what tribes and the federal government consider to be Indian country in order to reduce legal issues and other tensions between tribes and the federal government.
As part of the agreement, NAIHC plans to assist the Census Bureau in developing and disseminating educational and outreach products to tribes concerning the survey. The Census Bureau will in turn provide training to tribal housing directors on how to respond to survey questions and how to use mapping technology involved with the survey’s data collection process. The agreement is open-ended and does not have an end date.
For many years the Census Bureau has had problems establishing consistent contacts with tribes to gather information for the Tribal BAS, Causley said in an interview after the agreement was signed, noting a wariness of many tribes to work with the federal government due to historical strains.
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