PHOENIX – On election night, Jodi Owings and her family watched the results reported live on television in their Oklahoma home.
That's when she noticed the wording on a CNN graphic that displayed returns by race as white, Latino, Black, “something else” and Asian.
Owings, a citizen of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, asked her family if “something else” referred to them. The wording stood out because there's often a lack of reliable data on Native Americans, she said.
Native Americans make up less than 2% of the U.S. population and often are listed in datasets as “other” or denoted with an asterisk. Even when surveyed, the results can be considered statistically insignificant because the sample size isn’t large enough or the margin of error is too great to accurately reflect the population.
The National Congress of American Indians has said there’s a critical need for data that is accurate, meaningful and timely within tribal communities. The data limitations impact everything from community planning and resource allocation to policy development.
It’s unclear whether Native Americans were surveyed in the exit poll used by CNN and other TV networks and who else was included in the “something else” category. The research manager at Edison Research, the company that conducts the poll, did not immediately provide further details about the survey.
Heather Shotton, co-editor of the book “Beyond the Asterisk,” argues that missing data and incomplete representations of Native Americans have been a part of U.S. history.
Shotton, a citizen of Wichita and Affiliated Tribes in Oklahoma, said the “something else” label is a lazy way to represent groups that weren't included in the graphic. “It speaks to how Indigenous people remain outside of the consciousness of everyday Americans and exist either in an elsewhere or in the past,” she said.