Community Conversations Open Doors To Census Participation

Filed Under: Census 2020 - Posted @ 3:57pm

“Our Elders tell us stories about the abuse our people endured during the boarding school era, when government officials would lock our children in closets for speaking their native language. To this day some choose not to shut doors in their homes. Parents attempted to hide their children during those times, so that they wouldn’t be taken. The government knew who had children in the home and they were able to use that information against our people.”


The Puyallup Tribe of Indians Complete Count Committee – Robert Barandon, Andrew Strobel, Jennifer Keating, Eugena Buena-Douglas, Tara Reynon, Jennifer LaPointe, Michael Thompson, and Kimberly Ward.

“Due to our past history and the trauma our people have faced, there continues to be a great need for many social services in the Native community.”

Jennifer Keating of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians shared this story to illustrate a barrier her community faces to participation in the U.S. Census, “the historic distrust is something that isn’t just being hinted at, it’s being called out directly. Tribal members have mentioned Elders telling them not to participate in census issues because they tell them this is how they steal our children.”

The Puyallup Tribe of Indians is a member of the Pierce County 2020 Census Complete Count Committee, comprised of government, non-profit, and community leaders. The Complete Count Committee is working together to help ensure that every resident of Pierce County is informed, engaged, and valued in the census process. Data from the upcoming 2020 Census informs distribution of more than $800 billion in federal funds to support vital programs to communities across the United States, as well as determining the number of political representatives in Congress.

When communities are undercounted, residents don’t receive the services, funding, or political voice they need. Jennifer explained why it matters for the Puyallup Tribe of Indians to have an accurate census count, “Due to our past history and the trauma our people have faced, there continues to be a great need for many social services in the native community.”

Rena Thompson, Executive Director of Recovery Café Orting Valley.

“Do it for the greater good of our community. Do it for the rest of us.”

Recovery Café Orting Valley is one of over 40 participants in Greater Tacoma Community Foundation’s census outreach and education cohort. At a recent meeting, organizations discussed areas of distrust in census data collection.

Rena Thompson of Recovery Café Orting Valley noted that rural community members voiced concerns about privacy, “People don’t want to tell people information about themselves because they are very private. They fear the information will be used in the wrong way.” For rural communities like Orting, low census participation limits funding for community needs like school renovations.

All the communities engaging in census outreach are finding unique ways to support participation. The Recovery Café is holding community meetings and sharing census facts with their clients during regular face-to-face discussions. The Puyallup Tribe of Indians relies on personal relationships to network, while their communications team creates videos and social media posts to dispel misconceptions around the way census data will be used.

The Census Bureau addresses concerns about census data usage and privacy directly on the official website, “The law prevents the Census Bureau from sharing your information with law enforcement. Your answers cannot be used to impact your eligibility for government benefits. Your answers are only used to create statistics about our country. The Census Bureau is bound by Title 13 of the U.S. Code to protect your personal information and keep it strictly confidential. That’s every answer, to every question.”

As the 2020 Census date draws near, Jennifer shares the importance of opening the door to census participation with her community. While acknowledging the validity of the historical distrust, Jennifer also points to the importance of the services and representation that are determined based on the  2020 Census, “Even if they choose not to, maybe they don’t personally use that social service, someone in their family, or others in our tribe depend on that service. Do it for the greater good of our community. Do it for the rest of us.”


Starting March 12, 2020, households will receive their official 2020 Census Letter Invitation. The 2020 Census can be completed online, by phone, or by mail.


Further Reading 

U.S. Census Bureau Official 2020 Census Website

How to Respond to the Census  

Pierce County 2020 Census

American Indian Boarding Schools Haunt Many 

Puyallup Tribe of Indians 

Recovery Café Orting Valley