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Lenape chief worries about census count in tribal statistical area after year of challenges

The U.S. Census Bureau

A specific community in Delaware had high hopes for the 2020 census. The coronavirus may have stood in the way.  

The Lenape Indian Tribe of Delaware in Cheswold got a State Designated Tribal Statistical Area for the first time before the 2010 census. That year 115 people in the area identified as American Indian or Alaska Native—more than a fifth of that area’s total population. 

“What stood out for us was that we were a viable, living, thriving community of indigenous people that were still pretty cohesive,” said Dennis Coker, chief of the Lenape Indian Tribe of Delaware. 

Coker says the tribe sent out a color newsletter ahead of the 2010 census with instructions on how to write in a tribal affiliation and discussed it at meetings. But the tribe couldn’t do those things this year.

“COVID stepped into everybody’s life, and we have not been able to even have a general citizenship meeting since March of this year,” Coker said. 

Coker also worries no tribal citizens were hired as census enumerators. 

Regional partnership coordinator with the U.S. Census Ronald Brown says the agency did try to distribute outreach materials targeted to Native Americans in Cheswold— and reach out to the tribe about enumerator jobs.

The Census Bureau has reported a housing unit enumeration rate of 99.9 percent in Delaware. Brown says he thinks everything the agency put in place for outreach this year was successful. 

“Compared to 2010, we did a phenomenal amount of outreach in 2020,” said Brown. “The only concern we had was when COVID-19 started—being able to reach people in person and making sure that they were getting the information.”

Whether that outreach worked won’t be clear until the results of the 2020 census come out. 

“I’m just here with my fingers crossed, hoping that we got as complete a count as possible,” said Coker. 

The Census Bureau is expected to announce new population counts from the 2020 census by Dec. 31. Other census data is expected this spring.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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