The 2020 Census Is Coming. How Will Native Americans Be Counted?

June 19, 2019 AT 8:52 AM

By Kurtis Lee and Ben Welsh

Leonard Jones doesn’t remember a survey packet on the porch or a knock on his front door during the last census count.

But that doesn’t surprise him — not out here. Only family and close friends make the dusty 10-mile trek from the paved road, down dirt switchbacks lined by sandstone mesas, to his secluded home in northwestern New Mexico. There is no electricity, no running water, in the single-level sandstone structure.

“Few people know we’re out here,” Jones, who lives on the Navajo Nation reservation, said on a recent morning as his son Brett trimmed his hair. “We live in nature.”

“The thought of people coming out here and making us a part of any official count seems like a stretch, you know?”

As the 2020 census nears, concern about an undercount of Native Americans is gaining traction here and across the country.

Approximately 600,000 Native Americans live on tribal reservations, semi-sovereign entities governed by elected indigenous leaders. Here on the Navajo Nation — the country’s largest reservation, spanning portions of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah — roughly 175,000 people live in a mostly rural high desert area bigger than West Virginia.

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