On Thursday, March 12, Wasco elder George Aguilar Sr. became the first person in Oregon to complete the 2020 U.S. census. After he did so at home, he came to the Agency Longhouse in Warm Springs for a kickoff celebration.
The event included free T-shirts, young dancers, lunch and computers for filling out the census on the spot.
Dan Martinez, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs emergency manager, started the event with a prayer for the health of the community. The event opened as Gov. Kate Brown was calling for a ban on gatherings of more than 250 people in Oregon.
"We pray for God's creation," Martinez said, "for God's protection ... that our people are safe and sound."
Tribal Chairman Raymond Tsumpti then welcomed the crowd, saying, "This is a very important day."
He said in the past, Warm Springs tribal members didn't understand how important the census was.
But with the atmosphere of the current administration, he said, being counted is more important than ever.
"They need to understand throughout Indian Country, we've been here since time immemorial," Tsumpti said. "I think that the primary reason is that we will have a voice that has not been heard for many generations."
He called on the community to encourage their relatives to be counted.
Aguilar then took to the podium, giving a history of the census in Warm Springs, going back to allotment numbers given in 1887.
He said Warm Springs people were counted again in 1930 when they established their enrollment process.
He said he joked with the census taker that he was chosen to do the census first because they wanted to count him before he died.
"I just turned 90," he said to applause. "It's an honor be chosen for No. 1 before I die."
Aldo Solano, the census project manager for Gov. Brown, said, "This is a momentous occasion for the census."
He said Brown applauded Aguilar.
He also said the office knew it needed to prioritize tribal people. It allocated $500,000 for tribal engagement of people both on and off reservations.
He said the census is important because it determines many services, including roads and broadband.
Jeff Enos, deputy regional director for the Los Angeles region of the U.S. Census Bureau, greeted the crowd in a tribal language, which created a murmur of approval from the audience.
"Today, we join together for an important moment in history as we kick off our first counts of the 2020 Census in the lands of our first people," Enos said.
"Our goal is a complete and accurate count," he said. "That includes American Indian populations on and off reservations in coordination with tribal governments. Historically, American Indians have had an undercount," he said. "We want to ensure that does not occur in 2020."
He said the bureau was working with tribal governments and liaisons to prepare.
"We know as tribal leaders, you are the experts on how to reach your own communities best, and we thank you for being our active partners in census outreach activities. ... Today we begin the state's first count here on this sacred tribal land."
He said the census is important for determining how federal funding is distributed and for how many seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives.
He also emphasized that census responses are confidential and cannot be shared with other government agencies or law enforcement.
"Today, all of us are a part of history as we join together to hold the first enumeration on the Warm Springs Reservation," he said. "Thank you for your dedication, commitment and partnership to count everyone once, only once and in the right place. Now let's go and get enumerated!"
Caroline Cruz, CTWS director of health and human services, read a statement from Sen. Jeff Merkley, saying that historical undercounts resulted in robbing tribal communities "of funding that they are rightfully owed."
Louie Pitt, CTWS director of government affairs and planning, said federal allocation of funds is dependent on the census.
He said he was speaking in the place of state Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, who he said has been a good friend of the tribe.
Pitt said the census provides money "to have our Indian way of life," and that people need to get all of their relatives "to be seen and heard."
If people don't fill out the census on their own, people will be knocking on doors, Pitt said. "You're going to get pestered."
He also encouraged the audience to take care of themselves and that Tribal Council would update people on developments related to the novel coronavirus.
Cruz, who is also chair of the Complete Count Committee, also emphasized the importance of hygiene and good information.
"Let's be very careful," she said. "We do not have a case in Warm Springs."
She said as people travel, they need to be aware of their surroundings.
She also encouraged honesty with children, as well as care not to scare them.
"If you're sick, we're going to need people to stay home," Cruz said. "It's a protection for you. It's a protection for others."
A group from Warm Springs Early Childhood Education then did a mini powwow, with intertribal dances, a boys war dance and a girls butterfly dance.
Enos and Shana McConville Radford, also of the Census Bureau, joined a final round dance.
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