By Brittany Schulman, Waccamaw Siouan
Albuquerque Urban Native Complete Count Committee
We were not supposed to be here.
If you look at census records from the late 1800s to early 1900s in southeastern North Carolina, you can see many discrepancies, particularly in regard to race. Native Americans were listed as Indian on one Census, 10 years later they are listed a Mulatto and 10 years after that they are listed as Indian, again. (Mulatto is a dated term referring to a person of mixed white and black ancestry.) This happened a lot. This happened because the federal government sent a census taker, usually someone who was not a member of the community, to find out who lived where. Some census takers were thorough and went house to house; others would literally stop by a field or find a community representative to tell them where people lived. As far as the race question, sometimes they would make their own determination based on how the people looked. You have to remember this was after the Trail of Tears and Native Americans east of the Mississippi were not supposed to be here.
But we were.
When describing my tribe, Waccamaw Siouan, I often quote my Uncle Wakita, “You know, we are the tribe that didn’t move.” Turns out, we were not alone and throughout the southeast there are many Native American tribes who resisted and did not join the Trail of Tears, even though we were supposed to. We engaged in our own self determination and hid, often, within plain sight. We created our own schools and economies during segregation. We existed and thrived despite the fact, we were not supposed to be here.
Fast forward to 2020 and I now live in Albuquerque with my husband, who is Leech Lake Ojibwe from Minnesota, and our two intertribal children. We have a similar story as others who have migrated here for work. We are connected to our tribes and we are connected to our urban Indian family. Our urban Indian family includes Navajo sisters and Comanche aunties. It includes our Zuni/Paiute uncle, that I need to call more often. It includes my children’s White Earth auntie who never fails to talk Indian to them and calls them by their Indian names. Albuquerque has a rich and diverse Native American population. A population that is often overlooked and miscounted for the simple fact that, we are not supposed to be here.
The 2020 Census is vitally important to us as urban Natives. American Indians and Alaskan Natives make up the largest undercount of any race in the United States at nearly 5 percent. As the original people of this land, these numbers are unacceptable and manifest themselves in profound ways in our community. Not only does an accurate count of Native American individuals and families ensure that funds are allocated where we live, the count is used to determine tribal specific funding. Programs such as Title 1, Indian Health Services and Indian Housing Block Grants utilize census data. As an urban Native, you are not only supporting your community where you live, you are also supporting your tribal government back home, wherever that may be.
It is important that when your census comes in the mail that you take the time to answer those 10 questions about you and everyone in your home. You can answer via mail, phone or online. No matter the method that you choose, know that when you complete the census, you are letting the federal government know that we are still here, and we are statistically significant.