Census Bureau Indian Country tour kicks off with a blessing

The U.S. Census Bureau kicked off its 2010 Census “Tribal Road Tour” this week with a Native American ceremony blessing the Bureau van. The ceremony took place beside the Denver Art Museum’s “Wheel” exhibit, a piece inspired by Native American architecture and the Big Horn medicine wheel in Wyoming.

The Indian Country Counts tour of what the Census Bureau calls the “Denver Region” will cover Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming– a region spanning roughly 10,000 miles.

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Jared Ewy, media specialist for the Denver Regional Census Center, told the Colorado Independent that the Indian Country Tour serves a double purpose.

“We are doing this not just to get the word out about the census but also to help offer to the rest of the country exposure to the rich cultural heritage that exists in the region.”

According to the Bureau, the region of the tour is home to 91 tribes that make up 76 percent of reservation population in the country.

Kathy Lacy, regional director for the Census Bureau, said that the road trip was a new idea.

“This is part of continued effort to promote and continue to work with our 91 tribal nations in our region.”

Lacy reiterated the significance of the census.

“How do you know the needs of your community unless you know what your community looks like?” she asked. She said that it’s essential that Native Americans receive equal access to federal programs and funds.

The count

Amadeo Shije, tribal partnership coordinator for the Census Bureau, said that tribal nations rely on federal funds the same as do states and other municipalities across the country. But he said tribal communities often receive less than they are eligible for because the population has been difficult to count. “There has always been an undercount on Indian lands.”

“My job is to go out and encourage tribal members to partake in the census count because it is federal monies for the tribal nations. If we do our job correctly we should not have an undercount.”

The blessings

Andy Cozad, spiritual leader for Kiowa Native American church, conducted the ceremony. He explained that the blessing was a silent prayer to the creator to provide “good fortune for days to come.” Kiowa believe there is one creator, no matter how people refer to it, and that life is a blessing bestowed by the creator.

Richard Silversmith, from the Denver Christian Indian Center, lead a Christian prayer. He told the Colorado Independent that the census is important because “it brings central data to the community planners and leaders… and scripture says we have to supply for the widows, the poor, the children and surprisingly the aliens in our midst.” He said special emphasis must be placed on the poor.

From Denver, the tour headed to New Mexico where it will stop this week at Ohkay O’ Wingeh casino in San Juan Pueblo and at the Zia and Santo Domingo Pueblos.

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