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In a small town in Alaska, an early census began: what is the reason for the rush

To begin the census with the remote settlements of Alaska is not only a tribute to tradition, but also a necessity. Writes about this "Voice of America".

Фото: Depositphotos

There are no restaurants in Toksook Bay in Alaska, just like there are no motels and movie theaters. There are no plants or factories either. And dear.

But it is here, in a tiny community of 661 people, on the edge of the American expanses, that the people who will be the first to be interviewed as part of the 2020 census live. Their houses, painted in light green, purple or neon blue, to stand out from the crystal-white winter landscape, huddle on the shores of the Bering Sea. In fact, it is difficult to say where the sea ends here and the territory of the village begins.

In front of some houses you can see racks for drying fish. You would rather see a snowmobile or ATV than a truck or jeep.

In this isolated community that looks like other cities in the United States, official work will begin on January 21 to count all the inhabitants of the country.

Once every ten years, a census begins in remote areas of Alaska out of respect for tradition and out of necessity. It has been so since the United States bought this territory from Russia in 1867.

With the advent of spring, the city becomes empty, as many residents go to traditional places of hunting and fishing. The frozen January land facilitates movement, while by March the territory turns into a quagmire. The postal service does not work regularly, the Internet is unreliable, so you have to rely on house polls.

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For these reasons, the census begins here ahead of schedule.

In the rest of the United States, as well as in urban areas of Alaska, such as Anchorage, the census will begin in mid-March.

Toksook Bay, one of the villages on the island of Nelson, is particularly difficult for scribes. It is located 805 kilometers from Anchorage, and can only be reached by sea or by plane.

Some residents speak only the languages ​​of the indigenous peoples of Alaska, for example, Yupik. Someone can speak the same language, but not be able to read.

The US Census Office provides questionnaires, as well as guides, glossaries, and other materials in 13 languages, but there is not a single official Alaskan indigenous language among them. Therefore, local groups engage translators and philologists to translate the questions and goals of the census so that local leaders understand and become convinced of the importance of this action, and then tell others about it.

This is not an easy task. Some languages ​​can be very culturally specific.

“Take, for example, the word apportionment (“ proportional division ”), which is used to describe the distribution of seats in the House of Representatives by state. There is no such thing in koyukon. Therefore, translators used the terms used to separate elk meat in the village as a cultural equivalent, ”says Veri di Suvero, Executive Director of the Alaska Public Interest Research Group, Census Bureau.

The Census Bureau hired four people to work around the house. At least two of them will be fluent in English and Yupik.

In places like Toksook Bay, there is a risk of incomplete registration of residents - despite the fact that they have a serious need for federal funding for health, education and general infrastructure, which depends on the population.

However, distrust of the federal authorities is high. This is also characteristic of many other regions of the United States, but is especially noticeable in Alaska, where libertarian sentiments are strong. As for remote areas where everyone knows each other, people who request personal information are suspicious.

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“The main obstacle to accurate population counting in all of Alaska is worries about protecting privacy and confidentiality, as well as internal distrust of the federal government,” says Gabriel Layman, chairman of the Alaskan Census Working Group. “And this attitude is quite common in some rural and remote areas.”

Layman convinces people that the answers to the census questions are completely confidential: the Census Bureau does not have the right to transmit the information to law enforcement agencies, immigration officials, and even the homeowner, if it turns out that 14 people live in your rented apartment. Violation of this rule threatens the scribe with prison and a substantial fine.

When the census begins, the Yupik elder, who is a member of the famous Eskimo dance group, will be interviewed first.

Lizzy Chimiugak from 89 to 93 years old. Her exact age is unknown, since birth records were not kept. “She is called the grandmother of the whole community,” says Robert Pitka, tribal administrator for the Nunakauyak Traditional Council in Toksook Bay.

Census Bureau Director Stephen Dillingham will be present at the start of the count.

Village officials will meet him at the local airport and bring him to school, where community members will offer traditional food, which may include seal, walrus, elk or musk bull meat. They will hold a ceremony with a dance group, including Chimiugak, who will come to school and dance in a wheelchair, weather permitting.

City councilor Mary Kailukiak says she will be one of the cooks.

“I think: maybe cook dried fish caviar, herring caviar,” she says, looking up from ice fishing for sea bass and silver salmon to talk to a journalist. The caviar will be soaked overnight and served with seal fat.

After that, Dillingham will conduct the first official survey, meeting with Chimiugak face-to-face, as required by federal privacy laws.

Pitka hopes for good weather - most recently there was minus 29 degrees Celsius - when the attention of the whole country will be turned to the village.

“It will be a very special moment,” he says.

Simeon John, head of the youth suicide prevention group, spoke to an audience of 120 people at the end of Sunday's service at St. Peter's Fisherman's Catholic Church. Addressing the parishioners in Yupik, he explained why strangers would come to the village.

He also encouraged them to take part in the census when they knock on their door.

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“One of the reasons we encourage people to take an active part is the benefits we get,” John said.

The answers received during the census will help local residents improve the situation with water supply, the airport, the port and even roads.

Community leaders will not be limited to announcements on church services and will send the same message to citizens on VHF marine radio, as well as using modern means of communication.

Miscellaneous In the U.S. population census 2020 year

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