Sovereign Status Makes Onondagas Not Want to Fill Out Census

The lounge at the home of Indigenous Students at Syracuse at Syracuse University has artifacts of native culture. (c) 2015 Nicole Hansen

Many Natives are Hestitant about the Census

Gathering information for the census on the Native American population is difficult because of an extensive history of mistrust between the U.S. government and native people.

By Nicole Hansen SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — For some Native Americans, it’s mistrust in the U.S. government that keeps them from answering the Census. For the Onondagas, it’s because they’re technically their own sovereign nation.

“We have our own government, we follow our original ways of how to live in this world, and, you know, doing our ceremonies,” said Regina Jones, an Oneida who lives on the Onondaga Nation.

Neal Powless, an Onondaga and documentary producer, said the Haudenosaunee just weren’t interested in becoming U.S. citizens when the United States granted citizenship to Native Americans, or being counted in the census.

“From that moment, traditional communities have all basically said, we’re not counted as the census, we’re not a part of the census and we’re not citizens,” Powless explained. “Do we want to be counted by a census of another governmental agency that’s trying to count native people? Not really.”

According to Powless, the Onondaga Nation doesn’t accept federal funding. This means the U.S. government needs special permission from the chief to distribute the census in the nation, which Powless said the chief doesn’t usually grant. He said the government has tried to find other ways to estimate how many people live on the reservation.

“They might be able to watch cars and see how many people come out of the [reservation] that look like they’re native and not really know, and then just guess,” Powless said. “It could be 10,000, it could be 1,000. They don’t know.”

In an effort to better understand the population of many minority groups, including Native Americans, the U.S. Census Bureau is currenting debating new questions for the census. However, Jones doesn’t think that will help the Onondagas feel more inclined to fill out the form.

“I know for Onondaga that [the number of people on the reservation] will probably continue to be a mystery,” Jones said.

Regina Jones is also the full-time faculty advisor for Indigenous Students at Syracuse at Syracuse University. (c) 2015 Nicole Hansen