The U.S. Census Bureau chief is heading to Alaska to formally launch the nation's 2010 count in a remote Inupiat Eskimo village, where residents are planning a huge reception of traditional dancing and a feast of caribou, moose and other subsistence foods.
Bureau Director Robert Groves is scheduled to count the first household in Noorvik at 1 p.m. Monday, after arriving by charter plane at the village not linked by roads to anywhere else. Villagers say the first to be counted will be Clifton Jackson, a World War II veteran and the oldest resident in the community of 650.
But first Groves and other census officials will be greeted by eagerly awaiting residents. For the visitors' sake, locals hope the weather is kinder than the brutal minus-40 temperatures already recorded this month in Noorvik, located north of the Arctic Circle near Alaska's western coast.
Sled dog teams driven by schoolchildren will greet the visitors and ferry them to the school, where festivities will continue into the night after the first enumeration is completed. An Inupiat fashion show, a short film on Noorvik and dancing by school children, other locals and groups from other villages are among the planned events. The school also will serve as lodging for Groves and most of the 50 visitors, who will bunk down in empty classrooms.
Alaskans in rural communities not linked by roads have been the first people counted since the 1990 census. The unlinked communities are the places where the process is first conducted in person by census workers. The bureau makes personal visits to nonresponding residents around the country.
It's easier to get census workers to the Alaska villages before the spring thaw brings a muddy mess, making access more difficult, said Ralph Lee, director of the bureau's Seattle region, which oversees Alaska. Also, residents in many villages still live off the land, hunting and fishing for their food, and it's important to reach them before they set off for fishing camps or hunting expeditions when the weather begins to warm.
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