Akee on Historic Nomination for U.S. Interior Secretary

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee co-authored an article for the Brookings Institution on the nomination of the first Native American to hold a U.S. Cabinet position. If confirmed, New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland would lead the Department of the Interior, which has oversight of federal lands and waterways as well as the plants, animals and natural resources located there and also manages the U.S. government’s relationship with Native American nations. “Rep. Haaland’s nomination marks a turning point in valuing the experiences, knowledge and leadership of Native American nations, which would have been unimaginable in previous presidential administrations,” wrote Akee and Robert Maxim, a Brookings research associate. They cautioned that “the day-to-day challenges many Native Americans face will be impossible to overcome through just a single nomination” but welcomed the opportunity to “move the Interior Department from a position of active harm toward Native American nations to one of mutual respect, partnership and understanding.”

Akee on Movement to Reclaim Indigenous Lands

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee spoke with CNN for an article on efforts by Indigenous people across North America to reclaim land — including the tribe at the heart of the Thanksgiving holiday. Descendants of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe that broke bread with colonists four centuries ago are fighting for recognition and the return of land. They are part of a broader movement that is gaining steam as the country grapples with injustices committed against marginalized communities. While recognition, economics and sovereignty are all at play, the fight centers on getting Indigenous lands back in Indigenous hands. “The origin of being Indigenous is location and ties to the land,” Akee said.

Akee on Concerns About a Census Undercount of Native Americans

In a U.S. News and World Report article, Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee expressed concern about the way U.S. Census formulas count Native American communities. The 2020 census count closed on Oct. 15, two weeks earlier than the COVID-adjusted deadline of Oct. 31. Many experts are concerned that the early closure will exacerbate undercounting of Native American communities, which rely on a complete and accurate census count for federal funding and proportionate representation in voting districts. In 2010, Native Americans living on reservations were undercounted by 4.9%, more than twice the rate of other racial minorities. Over the last year, the Census Bureau has been tinkering with its formula, which aims to provide accurate data and protect individual privacy but also increases the risk of undercounting small populations. Akee explained that, despite improvements to the way the bureau handles Native American communities, concern remains. “I take them at their word that they’re really trying to remedy the problem,” he concluded.

Akee on Achieving Equity for Indigenous People

In an interview with the Center for Public Integrity, Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee explored how Indigenous people fit into the national discussion of racial justice in the United States. Akee noted the similarities between Black and Indigenous people when it comes to overly harsh policing and intrusion into communities of color. However, he explained that the inherent sovereignty of tribal nations is an additional layer of complexity that differentiates Indigenous people from other communities of color. There is allyship and alignment of some issues between Black Lives Matter and Indigenous communities, but Akee argued that Native American issues and those of other communities of color are “distinctly different legally, politically, socially and culturally.” Through his research, Akee has found that local conditions improve in Indigenous communities under self-governance. Equity for Indigenous peoples starts with sovereignty and reclaiming land, he said.

Risk of Undercounting Native Tribal Populations, Akee Says

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee was featured in a Spokesman-Review article discussing the risks of undercounting Northwest tribal community populations. The Census Bureau announced that it will cut door-to-door counting short by a month, leaving census workers scrambling to meet the new deadline of Sept. 30. Indigenous people living on reservations were undercounted more than any other group in the 2010 census, the article noted. Tribal leaders fear that the shortened timeline could lead to an even more drastic undercount this year, resulting in less federal funding and other resources for tribes. Akee explained that the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled self-response rates. “There are so many competing messages about other things, and it’s hard for this to take hold in communities where people are worried about their economic stability and their actual health,” he said. “Filling out a census form is further down in people’s priorities.”

Akee on Reaching Hard-to-Count Populations in Census

Randall Akee, associate professor of public policy, was featured in a Durango Herald article discussing the issue of undercounting Native American people in the U.S. census. Native Americans living on reservations made up the biggest undercount of any ethnic group in the 2010 census. “Before the pandemic, it seemed the census was taking the issue of reaching out to underrepresented communities seriously,” said Akee, who served on the National Advisory Council on Race, Ethnic and Other Populations at the U.S. Census Bureau from 2013 to 2019. “One of the big things we were always focused on was how to reach the hard-to-count populations.” However, decreases in funding and the coronavirus pandemic have created new challenges. “There are high costs of getting to places and getting to people in these particular communities, which is the reason why undercounts are prevalent,” Akee said. “Remote communities simply need more time and resources for an accurate count.”

Akee Alarmed by Undercounting of Navajo Population

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee spoke with KJZZ News about the danger of undercounting the Navajo Nation population in the 2020 census. The coronavirus pandemic has hindered the self-reporting phase of the census; in April, fewer than 1% of Navajo had reported to the U.S. Census Bureau. Now, that number has risen to about 6.5% — still a fraction of the number that responded last time. Akee explained that it’s important for the census to get the numbers right. “Undercounting is horrible. It’s problematic because it affects everything from allocations of funding to congressional representation,” he said. Akee noted that funding for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was also based on population size. Undercounting of minority populations can drastically affect the allocation of federal aid and resources. Census workers are responsible for filling in missing data in order to account for lack of self-reporting.

Akee on Bringing New Perspectives to the Field of Economics

An American Economic Association profile of Associate Professor Randall Akee traces his path to becoming a leading researcher of underrepresented groups and an advocate for bringing new perspectives to the field of economics. Akee’s interest in economics was piqued by a class at his all-Native-Hawaiian high school in the sugarcane plantation town where he grew up. He went on to earn economics degrees from Dartmouth, Yale and Harvard, and now focuses his research on Native and Indigenous populations as part of the public policy and American Indian studies faculty at UCLA. Akee recently helped launch the Association for Economic Research of Indigenous Peoples to advance the study of underrepresented groups within the field of economics. “One of the things I’m interested in is opening the door for more underrepresented minorities in the economics profession,” he said, noting that the economics of race or ethnicity is rarely accepted as its own valid field of study. 


Akee on Need for Federal Funding to Support Tribes

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee was featured on Indian Country Today discussing the need for federal funding to support Native American economies. Akee co-authored a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin along with a report about the need for CARES Act funding to support tribes during the pandemic. While Congress has allocated $8 billion in relief aid, about half of it was tied up in litigation because of the use of the word “tribe.” Akee also noted that “having to spend the money by the end of the actual year 2020 and document all of those expenses in a way that is only tied to COVID-19 seems like a bit of an extra burden for tribal governments that are already strained.”

Akee on Underrepresentation of Ethnic Minorities

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee spoke to ABC News about the risk of underrepresentation of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in the 2020 census. Government attempts to count smaller populations of ethnic minorities, including Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, in the United States have historically been inaccurate because of unwillingness or inability to participate in the census. Profound distrust of the government and language barriers have also contributed to inaccurate census results. Experts worry that the added challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic may exacerbate inaccuracies in the 2020 census, which could result in small ethnic minorities being denied public funds and resources. “I’ve seen most clearly in the last two to three months the vital importance of as accurate as possible population counts, especially for small populations like NHPI,” Akee said. “Because without that, it may potentially throw off our public health figures.”