Census changes help correct historical undercount of Wisconsin’s Indigenous population

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By Frank Vaisvilas, Green Bay Press-Gazette

Coming from mixed ancestry, Brenda John always struggled to identify herself accurately when filling out census questions.

“I’m Oneida, I’m also part non-native,” she said. “I don’t have the ability to say both without going into a generic mixed-race bucket that can no longer be used for important things like grants for our community. People also don’t understand the difference around questions Hispanic and again the question of what to do if you are both Hispanic and Black, or Hispanic and Native, may result in not being counted correctly.”

John, who lives on the Oneida Reservation in Wisconsin, said she understands the importance of the census to her tribe and also to Wise Women Gathering Place, the nonprofit where she works, because these numbers are used to determine federal funding.

A push by tribal and federal officials to encourage participation in the 2020 U.S. Census has resulted in what tribes are hailing as the most accurate picture yet of the size and diversity of people of Indigenous ancestry in Wisconsin. .

Combined with improvements to the census itself, that effort helped push up the percentage of people reporting being Native combined with another race, such as white or black, in Wisconsin by 165 percent. from 2010 to 2020. In Brown County, the number of people who reported being fully or partially Native increased by more than 3,200 people, or 143%.

The percentage of people who answered that they were only Native American or Alaskan Native, with no other race, only increased by about 10% in Wisconsin.

Tribal officials across the United States have long argued that Indigenous peoples have been undervalued by the federal government, which ultimately led to a shift in data collection for the 2020 census. These changes included more options and clearer instructions for reporting ancestry for multiple races, resulting in significant gains not only for Indigenous peoples, but for other racial groups as well.

Nevertheless, a Census Bureau report published on March 10 indicated continued undercounts in 2020 in several demographic categories, including Native Americans. There was a clear difference between people living on and off reserve, with the latter continuing to be undercounted, at a slightly higher rate than in 2010. This difference, however, was not statistically significant.

Oneida Nation High School freshman Jonas Johnson hooks a bucket under a spear to collect maple sap. On the Oneida Reservation, approximately 65,000 acres beginning on the west side of Green Bay, Wisconsin and continuing into Outagamie County, the census has consistently reported a smaller population than the Oneida government’s own count. But the 2020 U.S. Census gave what tribes say is the most accurate picture yet of the size and diversity of people of Native ancestry in Wisconsin. (Credit: Sarah Kloepping/Green Bay Press-Gazette)

Melissa Nuthals of the Oneida Nation Self-Government Office said the majority of Native Americans had other races in their makeup and that diversity had not been reflected in past censuses. She said that less than 7% of Oneida citizens are pure-blooded Oneida with no other races.

“They’re improving their methods,” Nuthals said of the census data collection.

The 2020 question on multiple races more clearly asks the respondent to add their full racial ancestry as well as the name of their tribe. Detailed results for these questions have not yet been released by the Census Bureau.

John said she initially postponed filling out the census form because she felt worried about intrusive questions and wondered if she would be correctly identified and counted. Once she started, those fears faded away.

“The process was so easy compared to other years,” she said. “I finally said to myself ‘I’m just going to check this link (online)’ and I was hoping it wouldn’t be too overwhelming, and it was easy.”

On the Oneida Reservation, approximately 65,000 acres beginning on the west side of Green Bay and continuing into Outagamie County, the census has consistently reported a smaller population than the Oneida government’s own count.

Along with a change in questions and better tabulations by the federal government, Nuthals said tribal outreach has also helped improve population reporting.

She said many Indigenous people in the past did not fill out census forms due to mistrust of the federal government and concerns about privacy.

Nuthals said some have specific concerns, such as if they have too many people living in their household and are receiving federal funding. In all of these situations, she said tribal officials worked to allay those concerns for the 2020 census.

As a result, the Oneida Nation had the fourth-best census response rate among more than 500 Indigenous nations with reservations in the United States.

Dustin Elm stands next to a tree in a snow-covered forest and collects sap.

Dustin Elm, a sophomore at Oneida Nation High School, taps a maple tree to collect sap. A push by tribal and federal officials to encourage participation in the 2020 U.S. Census has resulted in what tribes are hailing as the most accurate picture yet of the size and diversity of people of Indigenous ancestry in Wisconsin. . (Credit: Sarah Kloepping/Green Bay Press-Gazette)

The total population of registered citizens of the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin is just over 17,000. In 1970, this estimate was 6,500. Nuthals said more Oneida registered as tribal citizens in the early 2000s after a large per capita payment was offered.

Registration to the Oneida Nation generally requires a person to be at least one quarter Oneida, a formula called the blood quantum.

In 2000, the number of citizens registered with the Census Bureau was about 7% lower than the number of the tribe. In 2010, improvements to the census left it about 2.7% lower than that tribe’s count, and this time around the census count was only about 1% lower.

“They got closer to precision,” Nuthals said.

Nuthals said federal grants and funding once relied heavily on census statistics, so accuracy was important. This is less the case now, as many federal agencies now use self-reported population figures from tribes. However, some funding may still consider counts and political constituencies are drawn based on census counts.

The population of registered citizens on the reservation is currently 4,626, up from 3,121 in 2000. Nuthals said the increase is also attributed to the construction of more housing on the reservation and its proximity to Green Bay for opportunities. employment.

In 2010, there were 2,275 homes in Hobart compared to 4,259 in 2020, Nuthals said.

The reserve’s overall population for all races has fallen from 22,776 in 2010 to 27,110 and officials say this is largely due to increased housing availability on the east side of Hobart and the west side of Green Bay.

While population reporting has become more accurate in the 2020 census despite the challenges of the pandemic, Nuthals said a lot of information was not collected accurately due to the pandemic, such as household income. , poverty rates and education levels.

“Hopefully we can get it all in 2030,” she said.

Frank Vaisvilas is a Report for America Green Bay Press-Gazette-based corps member covering Native American issues in Wisconsin. He can be reached at 920-228-0437 or [email protected]or on Twitter at @vaisvilas_frank. Please consider supporting journalism that informs our democracy with a tax-deductible donation to this reporting effort at GreenBayPressGazette.com/RFA.

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