HOULTON, Maine — U.S. Census Bureau officials were in Aroostook County on Thursday afternoon to work with tribal leaders to assure that all tribal members are counted in the 2010 Census.
The U.S. Constitution requires a census every 10 years, and questionnaires will be mailed out or hand-delivered in March. Some individuals in remote areas will be counted in person.
Representatives from the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and the Aroostook Band of Micmacs were present at Thursday’s meeting, which was held at the Maliseet Recreation Center.
Kathleen Ludgate, regional director for the Boston Regional Census Center, was visiting the area for the first time since assuming the post in 2004.
As regional director, Ludgate is responsible for gathering demographic and economic data from households in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, most of New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Puerto Rico. The Boston region encompasses nearly 9 million housing units and 3,176 governmental units, including 18 American Indian reservations.
David Slagger, Maine Tribal Partnership specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau, said the meeting was crucial to forging a greater affinity between the bureau and tribal members.
“Traditionally, tribal members have been hard to count,” he said. “When the report comes in, they are often undercounted. This effort is critical to doing the outreach that needs to be done to get a complete count for the 2010 census.”
Slagger, a Maliseet tribal member, said mistrust of the federal government has caused many Native Americans to shy away from such initiatives.
“Tribes have not always had the greatest relationship with the federal government,” he said. “But census data is important because it helps determine the allocation of federal funds for programs that benefit tribal members. Reaching out like this is very important because the tribal leaders here will go back to their communities and stress how important it is for everyone to take part in this.”
During Thursday’s meeting, she talked to about 20 tribal officials about the program and how to eliminate the barriers that exist between the bureau and the tribes.
“Tribal leaders recognize the importance of the census and will work on and off their reservations to make sure that all of their tribal members, regardless of where they live, are accounted for,” she said. “They are also going to point out that tribal members should identify their specific tribe as part of the race question. Mistrust of the government has been a big barrier, but I believe we can get past it.”
She noted that tribal members who are counted would help ensure that resources and services, such as housing, medical care and employment training programs, are available for future generations. She stressed that an accurate census count will allow tribes in the region to receive their fair share of federal resources.
Ludgate pegged Thursday’s meeting as “extraordinary,” saying that she had walked away with more ideas to reach out to the Micmac and Maliseet populations.
“We talked about printing out information about the census in their native languages so that we can better target tribal elders,” she said. “I was able to speak with each chief today and have a conversation about what we can do together to make this process better for everyone. This was a very productive gathering.”