The Navajo Nation, one of the hardest hit communities in the nation by the COVID-19 pandemic, is confronting a new enemy: Time.
With three weeks to go before the US Census is scheduled to end, 19% of Navajo people have responded to the U.S. Census, a much lower rate than for New Mexico and the U.S. overall, and lags behind all other tribes located within the state other than Jicarilla Apache.The once-a-decade head count of the U.S. population helps determine federal funding for healthcare, housing, roads, and a range of other important services and robust responses by tribal members ensure that their communities receive an equitable share of federal resources.
But the census deadline looms ominously following the Trump administration’s decision in early August to abruptly move it from the end of October to September 30. Earlier this month the Navajo Nation and the Gila River Indian Community joined a lawsuit filed last month by several nonprofits, including the National Urban League and the League of Women Voters, as well as cities and counties in a number of states, to keep the census deadline at the end of October.
There is no guarantee the court fight will end in an extended deadline, however. Over the past month, the Navajo Nation, which is one of the largest tribes in the U.S. and dwarfs other tribes in New Mexico by size, has nudged upward the number of people who have responded to the census, with responses rising from 10% in late July to 19% this week. But that’s significantly lower than its 53.6% goal, presented on the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department website. The expedited census deadline comes as the Nation is still recovering from the pandemic, after months of curfews and lockdowns during which census workers weren’t able to canvas rural and often remote Navajo communities.