by Andrea Stone
Condensed by Native Village
"Hello," said Census Bureau Director Robert Groves as he greeted the retired fisherman and sled dog trainer at his tin-roofed house. "I've got snow on my shoes," he said as he disappeared inside.
Eleven minutes later, Groves emerged.
"Done. No. 1. Only 309 million to go," he told reporters. "It's all downhill from here."
Groves traveled from Washington, D.C., to this remote Alaska village to begin the 2010 census. It was the first step in "repainting the portrait of America," according to the Census Bureau.
Every 10 years, the U.S. counts everyone living in this country. The information helps determine how many representatives the state gets in Congress and how much federal money the state will receive. Most of the 310,000,000 Americans will receive their census questionnaires in March.
In Noorvik, villagers worked for weeks for the big event. Elders prepared caribou soup, muktuk (whale sushi) and "Eskimo ice cream," a mix of fish, fat and berries. A traditional potlatch feast featuring native dancing was planned for later in the day.
Groves arrived from the local airstrip to the town in a dog sled. He was greeted by natives in ceremonial muskrat fur coats. Students wore T-shirts and hats reading "First in Alaska, First in the Nation" and "I'm Inupiaq and I count."
Noorvik had 634 residents in 2000 but this time, the numbers are expected to drop. Like other remote villages, food, fuel and almost everything else must be flown or barged in. A gallon of gas can cost $14.00, fresh milk $5.00, and diapers almost $1.00 each. The high cost of living forces many to leave for bigger, and cheaper, cities such as Anchorage and Fairbanks.
Despite that, village elders were eager to host the first count. "This is very important," said Walter Sampson, president of the Northwest Arctic Borough. "Hopefully, this will mean more funding for schools and projects."