Indian Country and the 2020 Census

The 2020 Census is just around the corner and ensuring an accurate count of Montanans, including American Indians, will be a big issue. An accurate count in 2020 matters because it ensures proper representation in state and federal government, protects tribal sovereignty, directs sufficient federal funding to meet communities’ needs, and protects vulnerable populations and marginalized people.

American Indians are a significant part of Montana’s population and our state’s future

American Indians are one of the fastest growing populations in the nation. According to the 2010 Census, the number of Native Americans increased nearly three times as fast as the total U.S. population, growing by 27 percent, from 4.1 million in 2000 to 5.2 million in 2010. Montana has the fifth highest representation of American Indians, as a percent of population (after Alaska, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and South Dakota).

Despite population growth, Americans Indians continue to experience the largest census undercount of any population group. The Census Bureau estimates that American Indians and Alaska Natives living on reservations or in Native villages were undercounted by approximately 4.9 percent in 2010—more than double the undercount rate of the next closest population group. American Indians living in Montana – on reservations and in urban areas – face a number of barriers to be accurately counted.

Congress and federal agencies use census results to allocate critical federal funding

The government distributes more than $800 billion per year for 300 different federal programs based on the Census. In Fiscal Year 2016, Montana received $2.99 billion through 55 federal spending programs guided by data derived from the 2010 Census. Every Montana resident that is not counted equates to lost federal funding of $1,989 per person per year. An accurate Census count ensures our communities receive equal access to federal funding.

How much funding does Montana receive that impacts Indian Country and is tied to the Census?

Education & Employment

  • $46 million in K-12 education funding through Title I Grants. Nationally, about 90 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native students attend Title I public schools.
  • Seven Region XI Montana Head Start Programs, which are specific Tribal Head Start and Early Head Start programs. These programs provide child development services to economically disadvantaged children and families, with a special focus on helping preschoolers develop the early reading and math skills they need to be successful in school.
  • $974,000 in Native American Employment and Training program. This program provides American Indians with employment training and skills, as well as support for daycare and transportation services to enable Native peoples to thrive in the workplace. The program also provides funding for mentoring, community service, leadership development, and other activities that help young people achieve academic and employment success.

Healthcare & Nutrition

  • Indian Health Service (IHS) and Urban Indian Health Program (UIHP) provide access to comprehensive and culturally acceptable healthcare to Natives, a critical program that fulfills the federal treaty and trust obligations to tribal people. The IHS provides services to 2.2 million Natives nationwide and uses census data for planning and implementation of programs. UIHP reaches Native peoples who are not able to access the hospitals, health care centers, or contract health services managed by the IHS and tribal health programs.
  • Over $970 million in Medicaid funding, providing health coverage to low-income families and individuals, children, parents, seniors, and people with disabilities. In 2016, 43 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives were enrolled in Medicaid or some other public insurance program. Medicaid also provides critical supplemental revenue for the chronically under-funded IHS.
  • $166 million in food assistance through the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP). More than one-fourth (26 percent) of Native households nationally and 32 percent on reservations received SNAP benefits in 2015.
  • $3.3 million in Special Programs for the Aging Title VI, Part A. This program provides grants to tribal organizations who deliver home and community-based supportive services to Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian elders.


  • Over $5 million in Indian Housing Block Grants. Nationally, the block grant program, which is based almost entirely on census data, served, helped build, or rehabilitated 4,687 units in 2014.
  • Indian Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) –The Indian CDBG assists low-to-moderate income tribal communities in improving housing, community resources, and economic development on reservations.
  • Over $32 million in Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers the nation’s leading source of housing assistance for low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and families with children.

Historical challenges of undercounting during the Census

Roughly 103,000 (or 1 in 10) Montanans live in neighborhoods that may be considered hard-to-count for the 2020 decennial census. These are areas where response rates were low in 2010 and tend to be more rural and remote census tracts. About half of American Indians in Montana, a total of 40,779 individuals, live in hard-to-count communities.

Low response-rates in Indian County are a result of several factors and socioeconomic barriers, including geographic isolation, non-traditional mailing addresses, high mobility, low homeownership, poverty rates, educational attainment, and age. To read more about the barriers that make the American Indian population harder to locate and contribute to low mailing response rates, undercounting, and low participation in the Census, read: Ensuring Natives Count: Overcoming the 2020 Census Count.

What can be done in 2020 to ensure a complete count

Efforts to ensure an accurate count have already begun in Montana, with the creation of the Montana Complete Count Committee (CCC). We applaud the efforts of the CCC and others to focus on ensuring a complete count of American Indians. No single solution can remove all of the barriers to obtaining an accurate count in Indian Country. Instead, a multifaceted approach must be used for the 2020 Census.

Here are several recommendations to ensure that American Indians living within Montana’s state borders have appropriate access to the 2020 Census, are counted fully, and are represented for the significant population they are in our state.

  • Representation of American Indians on Montana’s Complete Count Committee. American Indian tribal leaders, tribal health directors, and grassroots advocacy organizations in Indian Country should be proactively invited to the table and respected for their leadership in conducting the census work in their communities.
  • Hiring of American Indians for the 2020 Census. It is critically important for the federal government to hire locally in hard-to-count communities, especially tracts on and near reservation lands and in cities with higher urban Indian population. The state of Montana should actively work to recruit American Indians to apply for census positions and prioritize hiring individuals from the areas of the state which are historically the most underrepresented.
  • In-person canvassing for census survey work. Communication means such as conventional mail, phone, and online forms to complete the 2020 Census are not appropriate or effective channels to reach American Indians – especially in the more rural parts of Montana. Broadband access, nontraditional mailing addresses and PO boxes, as well as limited cell phone use are very real barriers. In-person canvassing to reach people at their homes will be far more successful to counting people.
  • Funding for statewide educational campaign. Unless individuals understand the significant opportunities and consequences of the 2020 Census, they may not complete the census survey accurately or at all. The state of Montana should invest more public funding in a statewide educational campaign to prevent the undercounting of American Indians.

Below are additional resources on the 2020 Census information, specific to Montana and Indian Country:


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