Native people, in particular, are the most undercounted ethnic group in the census’ history. Native people were excluded from the first 70 years under the U.S. Constitution, which explicitly regarded “Indians not taxed,” or those living on reservations or unsettled territories, as not countable. In more recent years, the U.S. Census Bureau’s own data has shown significant undercounting. In the 1990 census, 12.2 percent of Native people on reservations were undercounted, according to the Census Bureau’s findings. A decade later, the census seemed to improve, with the bureau not reporting a statistically significant undercount. But then in 2010, it jumped back up to 4.9 percent.
This is particularly devastating for Indigenous people because of how census data has been used to help determine many aspects of tribal sovereignty, such as tribal recognition and enrollment.
…“American Indian and Alaska Natives” are designated by the Census Bureau as a hard-to-count population due to issues including non-traditional addresses, high rates of renters and houselessness, and difficulties accessing more rural lands.
…In theory, blood quantum measures the amount of “Indian blood” a Native person possesses, which is then captured on a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood issued by the BIA. Officials use the following federal government records to measure blood quantum: census rolls between 1885 and 1940, the 1900 special Indian census, the Dawes Rolls, Durant Rolls, and land conveyances involving Native people. During this period, sexual violence became a common form of genocide against Native people, which some elders have attributed to an effort to lower the blood quantum of future generations.
There are only three types of living beings in the United States that have to register their blood quantum with the U.S. government: dogs, horses, and Native people.
…With the passage in 1887 of the General Allotment (Dawes) Act, the United States government institutionalized the distinction between full- and mixed-blood Indians. To receive an allotment, Indians had to become enrolled members of their respective tribes. To enroll in a tribe, an individual needed to prove a certain degree (purity) of Indian blood.”
…My blood quantum is registered with the BIA as one-eighth. This has a direct impact on my ability, and that of future generations, to gain tribal citizenship and be entitled to our treaty rights.
The passage of the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924 created new issues for counting Indigenous people. As Jobe’s paper explains, “The Census Bureau was concerned that Mexican laborers might attempt to pass themselves as Indians in the states that share a border with Mexico. To get an accurate count of the Indian population, the bureau instructed enumerators to take special care to differentiate between the two groups in the states of California, Arizona, and New Mexico.” To this day, Indigenous people from what is now known as Mexico and Central and South America aren’t counted as Indigenous to those lands. They can identify on the census as American Indian or Alaskan Native, but are often counted as Hispanic or Latino.
…Under the 1902 directive, officials assigned women and children the surname of their husbands and fathers even though this was not the way many nations and clans traditionally assigned names.
…Take U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ opinion in the 2009 Carcieri v. Salazar decision holding that if tribes weren’t “under federal jurisdiction” in 1934, when the Indian Reorganization Act was passed, then they can’t hold land in trust. This affects tribes that were not federally recognized before 1934, often because the government used the existence of intermarriage and assimilation to deny their status as Indian nations. This history is now being used against them, particularly for tribes mixed with Black people.