Cherokee Indians undercounted in U.S. census

Thursday, December 30th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHEROKEE, N.C. (AP) -- The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians hopes to be more accurately counted in the tallying for the newest U.S. census, saying its undercounting in previous censuses has cost the tribe valuable federal funds. Cherokee officials said census takers missed 12.2 percent of the American Indian population living on reservations in 1990, a number that includes members of the Eastern Band on the Cherokee Indian Reservation in western North Carolina.

An undercount means the Eastern Band lost federal funding for housing, health care and other services because many federal programs base the amount of money tribes receive on census figures. "It is important, on our side, when we're trying to write grants," said Susie Jones, director of Cherokee's Tribal Planning. "We have no idea at this point how many people are actually living on the reservation."

Of the 12,000 Eastern Band members, 8,000 are believed to live on tribal lands in Swain, Jackson, Graham and Cherokee counties. That doesn't include others living on the reservation, such as non-Indian spouses. The undercount in past censuses has been attributed to distrust of the federal government, language barriers and cultural misunderstandings, but the Census Bureau says it is trying to address the problem and counteract it.

Robert Haskins, the Census Bureau's office manager in Asheville, said translators will be used when the census takes place from March 20 to May 30. "When (we) work on the reservation we will make every effort to respect local customs and will have someone who speaks Cherokee," he said. The Census Bureau also is hiring Eastern Band members to take the count on the reservation, said Patrick Clark, a Lumbee Indian working for the Census Bureau's Partnership Program in North Carolina. "Every person will be counted, on and off the reservation," she said. "Indians all over North Carolina were undercounted -- a major undercount. I make no bones about it to the tribes: If you want better schools, more health care facilities in your area, then fill out your census. That's the road to get there."

The Eastern Band is the only federally recognized Indian tribe in North Carolina. Sydnee Chattin-Reynolds, manager of the Census Bureau's American Indian/Alaska Native program, said the Census Bureau has made it a priority to work with tribal leaders on the 2000 census. The agency has conducted 10 conferences to give tribal government leaders access to Census Bureau officials and a chance to ask questions, she said.

The Census Bureau also is dealing with the 557 federally recognized tribes as sovereign entities. The Census Bureau is using an advertising campaign designed by an American Indian-owned firm to encourage tribes to fill out the census forms. The advertisements are being placed in newspapers published in communities with large Cherokee populations.