The Count Must Continue: American Indian and Alaska Native Households are Still Well-Below the National Rates Indicated in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Statements About Census Completion Rates

Published on Oct 13, 2020

The 2020 Census ends on October 31, 2020.

The U.S. Census Bureau recently informed tribal nations that their reservations and communities are “completed” or are nearing “completion” of the 2020 Census. Unfortunately, the Census Bureau has not explained clearly what those statements mean. This misinformation has caused many tribal nations to mistakenly believe that all of their tribal citizens have been counted, yet Indian Country still remains undercounted.

The “completion” rates provided by the Census Bureau merely refer to the percentage of households not responding to the 2020 Census that the Bureau is no longer trying to contact. By saying they are “completed,” the agency means they have stopped their operations and are no longer contacting households on a reservation or in a community that have not yet responded. A reservation or community that the Census Bureau has said is “100 percent completed” can include many households that have not yet responded to the 2020 Census. 

There are many reasons why the Census Bureau will stop trying to contact a household. Sometimes, it is because someone in the household self-responded online, by phone or by mail. Other times, it is because a Census taker interviewed a person from the household. But in far too many cases, it is because the Census Bureau determined that no one lived in a residence, a neighbor answered the questions, or the Census taker interviewed a complete stranger about the household. 

For Indian Country, we are learning that we must ignore the “completion” rates that Census workers and the U.S. Census Bureau provide or announce about their operations. The only way a tribal nation can ensure that all of its citizens are counted is if each household responds to the 2020 Census. Tribal nations and Native organizations working on the Census should rely on the self-response numbers for their communities, which are available at If a tribal nation or its communities have low self-response rates, especially rates that are below 50 percent, then it is certain that many of the tribal nation’s citizens have not been counted.

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), and the National Urban Indian Family Coalition (NUIFC) urge tribal nations and Native organizations to continue working on getting the count completed for the 2020 Census. The messaging for American Indians and Alaska Natives is simple.  All tribal nations’ citizens must ensure their household is counted for the 2020 Census.  Do not let others speak for you.  There is still time to complete the 2020 Census online at, by phone at 844-330-2020 from 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. Eastern Time, or by mail. 

Let’s work together to make sure that every urban Native and all of Indian Country counts in the 2020 Census!


About the National Congress of American Indians:
Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country. NCAI advocates on behalf of tribal governments and communities, promoting strong tribal-federal government-to-government policies, and promoting a better understanding among the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people and rights. For more information, visit

About the Native American Rights Fund:
Founded in 1970, NARF is the oldest and largest non-profit dedicated to asserting and defending the rights of Indian tribes, tribal organizations, and individual Indians nationwide. For the past 48 years, NARF has represented over 275 Tribes in 31 states in such areas as tribal jurisdiction, federal recognition, land claims, hunting and fishing rights, religious liberties, and voting rights. For more information, visit

About the National Urban Indian Family Coalition:
Created in 2003, the NUIFC advocates for American Indian families living in urban areas by creating partnerships with tribes, as well as other American Indian organizations, and by conducting research to better understand the barriers, issues, and opportunities facing urban American Indian families. The NUIFC works to ensure access to traditionally excluded organizations and families, and to focus attention on the needs of urban Indians. Learn more by visiting

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