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Indigenous people demand to be seen and accounted for after latest census

Posted at 12:29 PM, Sep 14, 2021

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Sunnie Clahchischiligi has been weaving since she was 7 years old.

"My late grandmother always said that as long as you know how to weave you’ll never go hungry,” Clahchischiligi said. "I am from Teec Nos Pos, Arizona, on the Navajo nation."

Clahchischiligi is a PhD student and instructor at the University of New Mexico. She’s also a 5thgeneration Navajo rug weaver strongly tied to her roots. Roots that have nourished a robust population as indigenous communities continue to grow.

“This is the one year that I can honestly say that I've seen advertisements and campaigns to get more people to be more involved in reporting to the census," Clahchischiligi said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, from 2010 to 2020, the American Indian and Alaska Native populations together increased by 160 percent.

“Perhaps we're tired of being in the shadows, perhaps we're tired of being forgotten, which has happened for very, very many years,” Clahchischiligi said.

After years of erasure, they are now demanding to be seen. Many of them are eager to share their culture with others. Melvin Juanico is the operations manager at the Sky City Cultural Center and Haak’u Museum in the Acoma Pueblo. We met at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque because Acoma and many other pueblos are closed to visitors due to COVID.

“Acoma Pueblo is considered to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in North America dating back to 1150 AD,” Juanico said.

He says Acoma people strive to preserve what their ancestors started for them.

“As we talk about sacred sites, as we talk about tradition, culture, it's very important that we reflect back on how we first came about, what our ancestors went through," Juanico said. "Of course, at Acoma Pueblo in the early 1500s, they were invaded by the conquistadors and they faced battle.”

Because of that history, Clahchischiligi says that in her community there have been generations of distrust. She says she doesn’t believe the number of Native people grew that much in a decade. Rather, she thinks there was much more participation in the census.

“A lot of people from my own community, whether in Teec Nos Pos or the Navajo community, are really hesitant about taking part in the census because we've been so used to being overlooked that a lot of people think it goes nowhere,” Clahchischiligi said.

However, Juanico is hopeful that’s changing. With more representation in the census, he is anticipating better funding, better healthcare and better education.

“We want our younger generation to get their education," Juanico said. "Even after high school, to pursue a college degree to get a good job.”

Both say they can’t speak for other tribes and can only speak to their own experience. Moving forward, they are ready to make their presence known.

“My hope is that we continue to stay strong and to stay happy and to continue to communicate and share with one another the idea that we have as Native American tribes,” Juanico said.

“The United States has a history of sharing the indigenous people's stories, but we are here and we can tell our own stories,” Clahchischiligi said.