To begin a census from remote villages of Alaska is not only a tribute to tradition, but a necessity. This writes the “Voice of America”.
In the town of Toksook Bay in Alaska no restaurants, no motels and cinemas. Factories either. And roads.
But it is here, in a tiny community with a population of 661 people, on the edge of the American landscape, people live, who are the first respondents in census 2020. Their houses, painted in light green, purple or neon blue color to stand out against the crystal white of the winter landscape, huddled on the shore of the Bering sea. In fact, it is difficult to tell where the sea ends and begins the territory of the village.
Before some houses, you can see racks for drying fish, and you’ll soon see a snowmobile or ATV than a truck or jeep.
In this isolated village, which looks like other cities in the United States, January 21, the official start of work on counting all inhabitants of the country.
The census, which is conducted every ten years, starts from the remote areas of Alaska out of respect for tradition and necessity. Has been since as long as the United States bought the territory from Russia in 1867.
With the arrival of spring the city is empty because many residents go to traditional places for hunting and fishing. January the frozen ground makes it easier to move, whereas by March, the area turns into a quagmire. The postal service works sporadically, the Internet is unreliable, so you have to rely on house-to-surveys.
For these reasons, the census begins here ahead of time.
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 Nelson island, is of particular difficulty for the scribes. It is located at 805 kilometers from anchorage and reachable only by sea or plane.
Some villagers speak only the indigenous languages of Alaska, for example, picscom. Someone can speak the same language but not be able to read.
Department of census of the United States provides questionnaires, as well as directories, glossaries and other materials in 13 languages, but among them there is no official language of the indigenous peoples of Alaska. So the local groups are attracted translators and linguists for translation of questions and objectives of the census to local leaders understood and realized the importance of this action, and then told others about it.
This is no easy task. Some languages can be very culturally-specific.
Take, for example, the word apportionment (“proportions”), which is used to describe the system of distribution of seats in the House of representatives by state. In the language of koyukon there is no such thing. Therefore, the translators used the terms used to separate elk in the village, as a cultural equivalent, said veri di Suvero, Executive Director and partner of the Bureau of the census, a group to study the public interest of Alaska (Alaska Public Interest Research Group).
The census Bureau has hired four people for house-to-bypass. At least two of them will be fluent in English and upickem.
In such places, as Toksook Bay, there is a risk of incomplete registration of residents – despite the fact that they have a serious need for Federal funding of health, education and General infrastructure, which depends on population.
However, distrust of the Federal government highly. This is true for many other areas of the US, but is especially noticeable in Alaska, where strong libertarian sentiments. As for remote areas, where everyone knows each other, to people requesting personal information are treated with suspicion.
“The main obstacle to an accurate count of the population in all of Alaska is concerns about privacy protection and confidentiality, as well as internal distrust of the Federal government – the Chairman of the Working group on censuses in Alaska Gabriel Layman. And this attitude is quite common in some rural and remote areas”.
Layman convinces people that the answers to the census questions are absolutely confidential: the census Bureau has no right to disclose the information to law enforcement agencies, immigration officials and even the owner if you find that your rented apartment inhabited by 14 people. Violation of this will result in the copyist prison and a considerable fine.
When the census starts, upeksa elder, which is a member of the famous eskimo dance group, will be interviewed first.
Lizzie Cinepak from 89 to 93. Its exact age is unknown because birth records were not kept. It is called the “grandmother of the whole community,” said Robert Pitka admin on tribal Traditional Council Nunokawa in Toksook Bay.
The Director of the Bureau of the census Stephen Gillingham will be present at the beginning of counting.
Village officials will meet him at the local airport and brought to the school where members of the community will offer traditional food, which would probably include the meat of seal, walrus, moose or musk ox. They will hold a ceremony with the participation of dance groups, including Cinepak, which will arrive in school and will dance in a wheelchair, if the weather allows.
City Council member Mary Kaluchak says she will be one of the chefs.
“I think, maybe to cook dried fish eggs, caviar of herring,” she says, breaking away from ice fishing for sea bass and silver salmon, to talk to a journalist. The eggs will be soaked overnight and served with seal fat.
After that, Dillingham will hold its first official consultation meeting with Cinepak eye to eye, as required by the Federal law on the protection of privacy.
Pitka hopes for good weather – recently here was minus 29 degrees Celsius – when the country’s attention will be drawn to the village.
“This is a very special moment,” he says.
Simeon John, the lead group for the prevention of youth suicide, spoke to an audience of 120 people after the Sunday service in a Catholic Church St Peter the fisherman. Addressing the congregation on LexCom language, he explained what the village will come to strangers.
He also urged them to participate in the census when they knock on the door.
“One of the reasons why we encourage people to participate – a benefit that we receive,” said John.
Obtained in the census answers will help local residents to improve the situation of water supply, airport, port and even roads.
The leaders of the community will not be limited to announcements at Church services and would address the same message to citizens on marine VHF radio, as well as using modern means of communication.