The first statewide California Native American Youth Virtual Gathering concluded its third and final day today. Youth from around the state gathered virtually for the past three days to learn the importance of and how to engage in the 2020 Census with their families and communities.  

Native youth participants were coached by California Native artists to create an art piece in their choice of media to reflect on why they count and how they identify as Native Americans in the Census.

Rose Hammock is Pomo and Wailacki from the Round Valley Indian Reservation and Pomo from the Big Valley Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians. “I appreciate being here today with us all, learning from one another, and telling the story of our communities. The Census will help our communities and our tribal members.”  

They created panels for murals, dance pieces, graphic comics, rap songs, photography, medicine bags, poetry, and short plays. Each piece of art was telling the story of their hopes for the future, and each piece carried the hearts of their ancestors. In a poem, one of the youth shares that the “ancestors hear us and watch upon us.” The art is intertwined with California’s rich Native culture, and today they made sure their voices were heard by all.

At the end of the gathering, participants shared their experiences.

Joe Salinas, a California artist, was born and raised in Santa Rosa, California. He and his family are Kashia Band of Pomo Indians, from Stewarts Point Rancheria in Northern California. He shared, “These three days were powerful, and we were able to come together with technology to be with one another. Now, I know we had planned to meet face-to-face, and I was excited to beat the drums, pull out the feathers, and share our culture. We will remember these past few days, and we will bring our memories when we come together to honor the work we did here.”

The theatre group who worked with Kumeyaay theater artist Kenny Ramos, Barona Band of Mission Indians, focused on their Native identity to the Census. In their skit script, they stated that taking part in the Census “is telling them that I am here. When we all check that box, it’s us collectively shouting. We are here! It’s saying that when I dance, when I weave, and when I breathe, it is with and for my people. Because we still stand and we stand together. I am a California Native Youth, and I count.”

Ditas Katague, Director of the California Complete Count – Census 2020 Office, was a special guest on this last day as she listened in on art classes and was also part of the audience during the final performances. She provided closing remarks encouraging attendees impactful follow up with their communities to ensure that the knowledge learned over the last three days carries on beyond the gathering. 

Katague said, “Seeing all of this creative effort speaks to me. And I know that artistic creation comes from the heart, and it speaks to me.” Katague is also an artist and painter. 

“History has its eyes on all of us. You are part of history in the Census. The Census is a snapshot of our communities. It’s about our communities being seen. I’m not going to give up. Rise and be seen, be heard, and know that you count now, and you will always count. I am so proud and moved by everything at this gathering. I can’t wait to see the murals and everything all together,” Katague said.

In her closing remarks, Katague said, “We’re here to help you navigate. Know that we’re here and your ancestors are here and generations before you are all supporting you to move, where we need to move our society, our nation forward.“

Jeri Brunoe, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and Ione Band of Miwok, facilitator, and organizer of the gathering, said, “Native youth participants will remember this gathering their whole lives. This gathering established a safe space to talk about identity, culture, heritage, and what it means to be counted as a Native in the U.S. Census. With this gathering, we hope the participants gained leadership and civic responsibility skills. Through their art projects, the youth articulated their identity as Natives, the importance of telling their story to others in a civil and artistic way. They also had a lot of fun. We provided fun social breaks for them like ice breakers, scavenger hunts, and a dance party that got everybody up and moving on the final day. I am sure they are going to keep up the friendships they made during this virtual youth gathering. We hope that by using virtual youth gatherings, we inspire other virtual gatherings throughout California and the country.”    

California is the vanguard of utilizing new technologies to message novel engagement practices.  

“We encourage our youth to speak up and speak out. We are proud to offer this new opportunity to express themselves. As professionals, educators, artists, and Indigenous people, we learn with and from our youth. We are all trying to find our way as we always have. Native communities embrace youth for their humor, their energy, strength, and power. We do not have to ‘empower’ our youth. They empower us,” Brunoe said.

The Native People Count California campaign thanks all youth participants, youth facilitators, keynote speakers, professional artists, and partners, including the Center for Native American Youth, for their support in the effort to engage California Native youth about the importance of being counted in the 2020 Census.

Follow Native People Count California on social media for the final works of art. 





About CNAY

The Center for Native American Youth is a national advocacy organization working to improve the health, safety, and overall well-being of Native American youth. Founded by former US Senator Byron Dorgan, CNAY is a policy program within the Aspen Institute, headquartered in Washington, DC. While a part of the Aspen Institute, CNAY is also overseen by a Board of Advisors. We strive to bring more considerable national attention to Native American youth issues while fostering community-driven solutions, with particular emphasis on youth suicide prevention.


Native People Count California is the official California complete count – Census 2020 tribal media outreach campaign. Launched in January 2020 – the Native People Count CA campaign is a collaboration between the Governor’s Office of the Tribal Advisor, the California Complete Count – Census 2020 office, and Tribal Media Outreach Partners NUNA Consulting Group, LLC, California Indian Manpower Consortium, Inc. (CIMC), and the California Native Vote Project (CNVP). Native People Count CA was created with the belief that the 2020 Census is an integral piece to upholding the fiduciary responsibility by the United States federal government to Tribes and its delegated authority to state and local governments.