By Alan Sorensen
ROCKY BOY Rocky Boy's Census 2000 kickoff luncheon Monday set the tone for what tribal leaders hope is a "good and accurate" count of reservation residents.
The luncheon was served at the Rocky Boy Senior Center, with the seniors being served first at 11 a.m. Representatives of many tribal agencies and institutions, including Chippewa Cree Business Committee Chairman Bert Corcoran, were on hand.
"I felt that we had a good success today with the feed and the posters and the other documentation," Rocky Boy census liaison Morris St. Pierre said.
One of the posters being used throughout Indian Country to encourage participation in Census 2000 is particularly significant at Rocky Boy, St. Pierre said. The poster shows Chippewa Cree Tribal Elder Angeline Sutherland, 90, holding a portrait of Cree leader and Rocky Boy co-founder Little Bear.
This is the first time that reservation residents will conduct census counts on Montana's seven reservations. St. Pierre said that difficulties that led to short-term ban of census takers on the Blackfeet Reservation have been ironed out. St. Pierre said that he met with a U.S. census official from Colorado to avoid the problems that arose in Browning.
Though Monday was the census' first official day on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, the actual door-to-door campaign is still a ways off. The purpose of the luncheon was to get people behind the census and to encourage everyone on the reservation to cooperate in providing accurate information.
The 1990 census reportedly came up about 12 percent short in Indian country, and tribal leaders don't want the reservation population to be under counted again.
"It affected our funding on housing on the new formula, the old census," Tribal Councilman Bruce Sunchild said. "We were able to successfully challenge that census to get a few extra dollars."
Nine tribal census workers seated diners and walked among the tables answering questions about the census and handing out Census 2000 keepsakes.
Corcoran also addressed the audience, explaining many of the reasons that an accurate census is necessary to the Tribe.
"Number one, we need to be accurate in the numbers," Corcoran said in an interview after the luncheon. "Number two, we need to be accurate in the income."
Corcoran explained that the last census showed the average annual income on the reservation, whose seasonal unemployment rate fluctuates between 50 and 90 percent, was $18,000. To Corcoran, that suggested that the only people answering questions in that census were those who had jobs.
"And then I told (diners) about the state voter redistricting," Corcoran said. "The numbers will go toward voter districts which will be up for scrutiny this year. Those numbers are very important."
Corcoran added that accuracy in the number of residents is very important to the Tribe because of the distribution of state and federal monies.
Eric Beyer, clinical director for Rocky Boy Health Board, said an accurate count is important for the delivery of health care to reservation residents, too.
"A lot of the health care dollars depend on population," Beyer said. "The more numbers we have, the more money we get for health care."
Judy Houle, senior center and senior programs director at Rocky Boy, said she hopes the Tribe's seniors get behind the census.
"We're hoping that the seniors will encourage all family members to participate," Houle said. "Our funding for the elderly programs and energy assistance really depends on a good and accurate census count."
Pam Stiffarm of Stone Child College echoed the others' sentiments.
"It'll mean more accurate numbers from our federal funding grant application and more money to get more people educated at Rocky Boy," she said.
Stiffarm added that an accurate census will enable the school to offer more services and encourage more students to get a good education.
Tribal Secretary Janice Meyers said she is encouraged by the efforts of the census team.
"It's the only way we get anywhere," Meyers said. "Last time, we were under counted. Hopefully, this time we'll get it right."
Betty Henderson, programs coordinator for the Health Board, said the census is important because it can provide more money for the tribal budget. But she also said that it can be important for all Montanans, too.
"Maybe we can get more congressional seats."