Havre Daily News
This summer the Chippewa Cree Housing Authority successfully challenged the population count the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development used to fund it. Since that victory, other tribal departments hope to convince more federal agencies to use higher population numbers, which would mean more money for their programs.
In 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 2,676 people were living on tribal lands at Rocky Boy. The Housing Authority's challenge argued the reservation has 3,200 people living in HUD homes on the reservation. That number was based on a study conducted by RJS & Associates using methodology approved by HUD. That study also found that there are 90 non-HUD homes at Rocky Boy, RJS president Jim Swan said.
“That means we can challenge and we should be able to win our challenge for roads,” Environmental Health Department director Tim Rosette said. Rosette said his department has until March 15 to present its census challenge to the Federal Highway Administration. That could mean tens of thousands of dollars more in the annual road budget.
“Money is attached to the population, and the census that was done in 2000 was an undercount,” said Bob Swan, founder of RJS & Associates and now financial manager of the Chippewa Cree Community Development Corp.
A spokesman for the U.S. Census Bureau said Monday he's confident of the numbers reported at Rocky Boy.
“Anybody will tell you that HUD's estimates are absolutely blue sky stuff,” public information officer Jerry O'Donnell said upon hearing of the Housing Authority's successful challenge. He added that the Census Bureau physically counts people, which is not comparable to an estimate prepared by a different method.
Mike Boyd, grants management director for the HUD Denver office, said HUD's national office approved the census challenge. Challenges have to be based on verifiable data, and Boyd said in general HUD agrees U.S. Census Bureau figures are low.
O'Donnell said the count at Rocky Boy could be somewhat low due to overcrowding in houses.
“Unfortunately, in this country, we have families that are doubling or even tripling up in a housing unit or else they'd be homeless. If there was a housing unit with people living there that should not be living there, they might not report it,” O'Donnell said. Jim Swan said he thinks that many people probably didn't participate in the census.
O'Donnell said that in rural areas, the Census Bureau sends people to canvass households.
“We're confident, even in rural areas, that we can find the housing units because we go out literally into the fields,” he said. O'Donnell said staffers do up to six follow-ups to get household data.
A post-census analysis of Census 2000 showed a roughly 3 percent undercount for Indian reservations nationwide, O'Donnell said. That analysis was done with the help of tribal governments. A 12 percent undercount on reservations was calculated after the 1990 census, he said.
When the Census Bureau counts people on reservations, it does additional advertising, O'Donnell said. Tribal governments, like all governments, are notified that they can challenge the census before the numbers are finalized.
“The numbers that the census showed don't jive with what we know to be the case,” Jim Swan said. “We've done a couple of studies on that and determined it was way out of whack.”
Many department directors at Rocky Boy believe they are serving more people than the U.S. Census Bureau counted. They hope to be able to prove it.
If the tribe had a planning office, it would have a place to collect and store data from each department so that more accurate figures would be available, Chippewa Cree Housing Authority director Susie Hay said. On Monday, tribal department directors proposed the re-creation of a planning office to help store data as well as plan for growth.
When the tribe negotiated its water compact, the figure used for assessing water needs was that in the year 2050, Rocky Boy could have 12,000 to 16,000 residents, water rights director Jim Morsette said.