After nine years of American Community Survey estimates, the U.S. Census Bureau is getting ready for its decennial complete count of the United States. 

Those who identify as Native American will be able to write in their tribal affiliation when responding to the U.S. census when the counting process starts next year.

Kathleen Styles, chief of decennial communications and stakeholder relations for the U.S. Census Bureau, said Thursday that race questions on the census form rely on self-identification.

“This is self-response and we do not tell people what is the appropriate answer to write,” Styles said. “ … We are in a sense asking people what is in their heart.”

Those who identify as American Indian will not be limited to the space on the census form when listing tribal affiliations, and Styles said it’s OK to write in the margins anywhere on the form.

”It’s important people not be limited by the size of the box when they’re filling out the paper form,” Styles said.

To be counted as an American Indian household, the person who is listed first on the census form must mark that they are Native, Styles said. In recent decades the census has moved away from terms like "head of household" or "householder" and now organizes households based on who is written down first.

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In this cycle, those who live on reservations in Montana can complete the census online, over the phone or by filling out a paper form. In prior census counts, people living on many reservations could only respond by talking with an enumerator at their door. Reservations have historically seen under-counts on the census, and officials said Thursday while they aren't naive to past challenges, they think efforts made for next year's count will lead to a more accurate result.

Allowing people to self-report can provide more better information, Lacy said, because people are likely to feel more comfortable accurately describing their living situations on a form or online instead of to a person.

Census officials who held a media call Thursday to discuss efforts in American Indian communities said that recruitment for census jobs in Montana remains a challenge. One of the hiring goals is to have the people who go door-to-door doing enumeration reflect the population in their communities. Officials said on the call that Montana was about halfway to its recruiting goal, but that there were no targeted efforts on reservations yet.