Why American Indians in Kansas are among top responders to the 2020 census

August 29, 2020 7:00 am

Maria Boyd (right) at work as a tribal partnership specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau. (U.S. Census)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Maria Boyd is a tribal partnership specialist overseeing Kansas for the U.S. Census Bureau.

Working for the U.S. Census Bureau has been an experience.

I am currently a tribal partnership specialist responsible for overseeing Kansas. In September 2019, I resigned from a full-time position at the Kansas City Indian Center to take this temporary census job. In doing so, I hope to leave a lifelong impression on tribal governments about the importance of being as transparent and inclusive as possible. Census participation is imperative to tribal governance and if not taken seriously, lack of participation can become a detriment.

I am also a designated data entry tribal team lead for the Denver-Dallas region and more recently have been working with 18 tribal governments in Oklahoma. I took this position to directly influence fund allocations, for tribal organizations specifically, into the state of Kansas.

As an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe, I am familiar with the neglect and disregard facing our tribes. Upon taking this position, I understood the level of difficultly and anticipated pushback from nations who have grown accustomed to being deemed a “low priority.”

I wanted to address concerns of Kansas tribes and facilitate inclusion and transparency. When handling any tribal concern or issue, it is important to recognize that mistrust inherently exists, due to no fault of our own but due to United States and tribal relations throughout history.

Some of the challenges that arose were products of miscommunication and mistrust. At the beginning of the year, the U.S. Census Bureau began another survey called the Boundary Annexation Survey. It provides an opportunity for state and tribal agencies to verify their legal boundaries, legal names and governmental status.

One of the tribes I work with asked me to “handle” the situation after receiving a map that showed it having joint land use with another tribe. Confusion and frustration radiated from chairpersons of both tribes as they questioned the location and the treaty pertaining to this land. I honestly had no idea, but I knew I could figure it out. I navigated census data resources and eventually mediated communication between the tribe and census headquarters. The Census Bureau then hired a historian and archaeologist to verify this treaty and land base, action confirmed by our regional deputy.

As tribes work to overcome strained relations, this situation highlights the necessity of the tribal partnership specialist position.

Aside from navigating tribal relations, tribal partnership specialists are responsible for getting access to various census operations. Ignorance of tribal sovereignty became apparent with some census operation managers, and educating was necessary.

I was lucky to have area census office managers who were open minded and invited me to speak about tribal considerations to their staff. Sadly, some tribal specialists throughout the region were less fortunate. Each tribal partnership specialist has had to navigate their own set of issues. However, our tribal team has never let one “no” inhibit our ability to get a “yes” from the next organization or tribal member.

During this journey, I was able to form some wonderful relationships. I had tribal people walk up to my census table during networking events at Haskell Indian Nations University almost offended that I was working for the census. I viewed this as an opportunity to explain the dozens of ways tribal people are impacted by the results of the 2020 census.

The importance of completing the 2020 census is not just about how our tribes can receive millions in federal funds. It is also about informing our tribal members of all the important services that money can provide for our citizens. Not only do you miss out on tribal programs, but you miss out on congressional representation to fight for those programs.

We need our lawmakers to understand what it feels like to go without food or to have their electricity shut off. We need to introduce them to someone who has actually used these vital emergency assistance programs. The 2020 census helps tribal communities stand up and use their voice.

During my time working on the 2020 census, Kansas tribes rank among the top 15% in self-response rate in the Denver-Dallas region. The Prairie Band ranks third, Sac & Fox fifth, Kickapoo eighth and Iowa 19th out of all 119 tribes in the region. These numbers are why tribal partnership specialists are vital for the decennial census, and most importantly, for tribes across the nation.

Ultimately, census participation boils down to making yourself count. Tribal nations count, and we need every single person living in a tribal community to be counted. We need an accurate count so we receive an accurate percentage of the billions of dollars up for grabs.

Tribal nations, stand up and get counted.

Lawrence, Kansas, stand up and get counted.

You matter. She matters. He matters. They matter. We matter. Stand up and get counted regardless of how you identify. For information and to complete the 2020 census today, visit 2020census.gov.

Maria Boyd presents Free History: American Indians and the U.S. Census, at 10 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 31.

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Maria Boyd
Maria Boyd

Maria Boyd is the Tribal Partnership Specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau, overseeing Kansas tribes, non-profits and tribal businesses in the state. She is enrolled Menominee from Wisconsin who came to Lawrence for educational endeavors and “never left.” She obtained a bachelor's degree in business administration from Haskell Indian Nations University and continued for a professional science master's degree from the University of Kansas. She is not only an advocate for the census, she is also an advocate for education.