By Melinda Munson 

The Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN), the largest native organization in the state, wants Native Alaskans to be prepared before they fill out the 2020 census.

The census, which takes about 10 minutes to complete and contains less than 10 questions, determines how much money the federal government will allocate to federally recognized tribes for programs such as Head Start or WIC for the next 10 years. According to AFN, if a native family of four is not counted, their community loses $14,000 in funding annually.

The United States Census Bureau estimated that Native Alaskans were undercounted by 4.9% in the 2010 Census, more than double the rate of the next population group. Historically, Native Alaskans have been underrepresented due to geographic isolation, language barriers and mistrust of the government.

The Census Bureau tried to address those problems when it began the 2020 census in Toksook Bay, a Bering Sea community 500 miles north of Anchorage. Census workers traveled to the village of 650 people by plane, then snow machine. 

The Toksook Bay census began in January, two months before the traditional start of the census, in an effort to canvas the community before the ice melted, making travel more difficult, and before residents migrated to seasonal fishing camps.

Skagway’s census participation should be less complicated than Toksook Bay, but Sara Kinjo-Hischer, Skagway Traditional Council tribal administrator, outlined three guidelines for Native Alaskan participants, all of which can be found at

First, don’t expect an invitation or code in the mail. Such invitations are only sent to physical addresses and not post office boxes. Residents can report their household information at without a code. Those who don’t have online access can complete the census via telephone by calling 844-330-2020.

Second, be strategic about who claims head of household. In a part-Native Alaskan household, the person filling out the census, or Person One, should be Native Alaskan.

According to AFN, “If Person One says he or she is American Indian or Alaska Native, then the entire household is counted as one with a Native head of household.”

And third, it’s important to list the name of the respondent’s federally recognized tribe, not their regional or village corporation. Participants can locate their tribe by region here: Individuals who don’t know their tribe can list their village. If applicable, more than one tribe or village may be listed.