2010 Census Sets Out For Frigid Alaskan Fringe

On Monday, the U.S. Census Bureau kicks off its 2010 count in a rather far out location: Noorvik, Alaska, about 500 miles northwest of Anchorage. Population yet to be determined, but at last check it was 634. Host Liane Hansen speaks with Bobby Wells, mayor of the small Inupiat Eskimo community.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Tomorrow, the U.S. Census Bureau kicks off its 2010 count in a rather far out location: Noorvik, Alaska, about 500 miles northwest of Anchorage. Population -well, yet to be determined. But at last check, 634. The census typically is conducted in Alaska's most remote native villages in the winter, when the frozen ground makes travel easier and before residents depart for fishing and hunting grounds.

Joining us by phone is the mayor of Noorvik, Bobby Wells. Welcome to the program.

Mayor BOBBY WELLS (Noorvik, Alaska): Thank you.

HANSEN: How did Noorvik get chosen to be the first community counted in the census?

Mayor WELLS: It was a phone call at first about February, and around the end of July we're still on the list. And by the time September came around, being at the top of the list, the Census Bureau asked for a meeting up here to be interviewed. And they wanted the municipal government, including the tribal government there and the elders. So, well, in a humble way I guess we just received them and made sure they had coffee, cookies, etc., you know, that kind of thing. Make them comfortable, so...

HANSEN: So, do you know who is chosen to be the first counted?

Mayor WELLS: Yes. We chose the eldest person in the village. He's 89 years old. And he's a World War II veteran in the Air Force. So, he was chosen.

HANSEN: Tell us a little bit about Noorvik. I mean, can you just describe it? What's the landscape like?

Oh, we're.

Mayor WELLS: Oh, we're real traditional village - hunting and fishing, a lot of that going on. I used to say about 65 percent - 10 years ago - of our food comes from hunting and fishing here. And we've got trees, mountains. It's a beautiful, beautiful village.

HANSEN: Is this your hometown, Noorvik?

Mayor WELLS: Yeah. I've been here since '53. So, I've seen quite a change happen here within those years.

HANSEN: And what kind of changes have you seen over the years?

Mayor WELLS: Oh, well, we didn't have snow machines then. Mail (unintelligible) would come probably twice a week. We had no tape recorders, no phones, nothing.

HANSEN: So, the population before this current census that begins, is it 634? Anecdotally, do you think that the village has grown or has it lost population?

Mayor WELLS: We should be at around 660. We are growing, you know. It's slow now. We had a tough year the last year, so we've had some people move out of the village. And we'll find out, see, you know, after the census.

HANSEN: Bobby Wells is the mayor of Noorvik, Alaska, the first community in the nation to be counted for the 2010 census. Thank you very much, Mayor Wells.

Mayor WELLS: Okay. Thanks for calling. Have a good day.

HANSEN: This is NPR News.

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