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Native American Populations on Reservations: An Ethnographic Evaluation of the 2010 U.S. Census Process of Enumerating Hard to Reach Populations

*Ted N Fortier, Seattle University 

Keywords: Census coverage, 2010 Census, ethnography, race/ethnic minorities, Native American, religion, kinship, non-Western, Indigenous populations.

The Census Bureau is conducting the 2010 Census evaluation, “Comparative Ethnographic Studies of Enumeration Methods and Coverage in Race/Ethnic Groups.” Expert ethnographers conducted a coordinated set of small-scale systematic Census field observation/debriefing studies of live Census Coverage Measurement Person Interview (CCM PI) Survey Operation to address the same research questions with the same methods at the same time in 9 U.S. race/ethnic sites. In most sites, the design called for researchers to try to observe most interviews in households of a particular race/ethnic group. This paper presents a case study of two remote Native American sites to identify methodological and substantive issues encountered while attempting to apply that overall design of interviews with one small, targeted hard-to-reach subpopulation. Data come from observations/debriefings in 2010 of 45 live CCM PI interviews on two reservations. This paper identifies and discusses factors affecting the enumeration of Native American households in these sites and how they contribute to the overall evaluation: language and cultural barriers, differences in kinship systems and religious obligations, question rewording and omissions. Cultural analyses of social systems and reservation dynamics that may affect coverage, such as issues of kin identification, obligatory cultural secrecy, and historical factors of colonialism, are discussed. Implications of these results for the overall evaluation and for planning and implementing other comparative subpopulation studies will be identified. Among these findings are enumeration practices for non-Western based kinship systems, social organization and particular variations of households that occur in Indigenous communities that rely on religious ceremonialism for overall organization and identity.

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