Press Release

Release Date: March 05, 2024
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

After dedicating her life to public service for First Americans, a professional recently received a top honor from the U.S. Department of Commerce for working to improve the relationship between First American tribes and the federal census bureau.

Jessica Imotichey and the U.S. Census Bureau’s tribal relations program team received a gold award for personal and professional excellence from U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo during a Feb. 6 ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Imotichey, a Chickasaw citizen, is a former member of the nine-person team tasked with building a permanent tribal relations program. She served with the U.S. Census Bureau from 2016 until accepting a position with the Chickasaw Nation last year.

“We were able to create a permanent program so now there are staff having ongoing conversations and relationships with tribes. I think that was a great decision on (the census bureau’s) part and I think it says a lot about the tribes that we work with too, because even the tribes asked, ‘Why do you come and talk to us every 10 years, we are still here in between.’ That’s an important distinction.”

Prior to returning to the Chickasaw Nation, Imotichey worked for the U.S. Census Bureau in the Los Angeles region, which covers seven states, including Alaska and Hawaii.

“I managed their tribal partnership program and their congressional partnership program,” she said. “This was during the decennial 2020 census which is the largest federal endeavor. They say it’s the largest federal peacetime operation.”

Previous to 2022, there had never been a permanent tribal program within the census bureau, she said.

Therefore, nothing was in place to maintain an ongoing relationship with tribes and tribal organizations.

“The decennial (census) happens every 10 years but in between that time there’re all kinds of surveys, such as the American Community Survey and housing surveys. These are important to tribes because that data is part of what feeds into their funding methodologies for grants. Having accurate data and having a good reflection of the community that you’re serving really helps to provide a good grant application and helps to provide accurate funding for your community,” Imotichey said.

The census bureau also has a geography program that looks at tribal lands and includes trust lands and restricted fee lands as well as tribal statistical designated areas. Making sure geography is correct is vital, she said.

In fact while the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) maintains trust land, the U.S. Census Bureau does all of the mapping for tribal lands.

“So having an accurate representation of what tribal lands look like across the country is really important,” she said.

Another critical issue within Indian Country is data and data sovereignty. The census bureau can also help facilitate in developing a survey instrument for tribes interested in conducting their own census.

“The current director of the U.S. Census Bureau, Robert Santos, is invested in making sure that the bureau has good communication and good relationships with our tribes. He really wants to have a firm and respectful understanding of tribal sovereignty and tribal self-determination. He’s made a great effort in putting an eye on the tribal program and some context around the U.S. Census Bureau’s relationship with tribes,” she said.

National Service

While working with the bureau, Imotichey also managed the states of Alaska and Hawaii. Both have large populations of First Americans, and diverse and challenging geographies.

“We made sure that in each one of our states the first person counted within that state was an American Indian and on tribal lands. In Hawaii, we picked a Hawaiian Homeland area. That was important. We were the only region that did that.”

The first count in the nation of the U.S. Census is always in Alaska. Operations there start earlier due to weather and subsistence living. Imotichey’s team conducted the first count at Toksook Bay, an area that is home to members of the Alaska Native Nunakauyarmiut.

“Our region also kicked off and led the nationwide American Indian media campaign for the decennial census,” she said. “Our tribal team really did a great job in being very focused and strategic. Even during the midst of a pandemic, they still turned out. Some of our tribal communities had higher self-response rates than the national average. We really had an impressive team.”

During her service at the census bureau, Imotichey had an opportunity to invite Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby to a 2019 census kickoff event to speak about the importance of the census. The event was conducted at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Governor Anoatubby was the first-ever tribal leader to speak at the event.

“He did an amazing job. It was awesome to be represented,” Imotichey said.

She still stays in communication with census bureau leadership and served as a speaker for Native American Heritage Month in 2023.

Previously, she facilitated a conversation with U.S. Treasurer Marilynn Roberge Malerba, the first woman and first enrolled member of a First American tribe to serve in the role. Malerba is also the permanent chief for the Mohegan tribe.

“I was really blessed to be able to facilitate a conversation with her in 2022 as part of Women’s History Month.”

Chickasaw support

Imotichey, who has two master’s degrees, said support from the Chickasaw Nation has helped her build a career with a national focus.

“I am grateful for the Chickasaw Nation’s assistance in every possible way in terms of going to college. I was very blessed to receive tribal scholarships and academic support each step of the way. That support has been critical.”

Imotichey received a master’s in public health, with a focus in health administration and policy, from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and her master’s in legal studies in Indigenous people’s law from the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

She worked for the Chickasaw Nation in Washington, D.C., from 2009-2013, on legislation and policy issues.

“I got to serve as a technical adviser on several national work groups, and so building that network and building those relationships really helped me whenever I transferred into the census bureau many years later, because those relationships were in place. There was already that trust there, which is a big thing within Indian Country.

Just making sure you know people who have your best interest at heart.”

After living in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Pueblo of Laguna, she returned to live and work within the Chickasaw Nation in 2023.

“Now I’m home,” she said. “I haven’t lived in Oklahoma since 2001, so it was really good to finally come home.”

She currently serves as a health policy and legislative analyst within the Chickasaw Nation Department of Health. She also serves as an alternate delegate to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tribal advisory committee and was recently named section and caucus representative on the Oklahoma Public Health Association board of directors.

“Every capacity that I’ve served in, every role in each of the places that I’ve lived, one of the things that’s always been most important to me is making sure that I represent the Chickasaw Nation and Chickasaw people well.

“I carry the people with me and carry the work with me in terms of how I was raised, making sure there’s always this aspect of being a public servant. Accepting an award like this, I really feel like I’m sharing it with my community. It’s not just me, my community built me, so I feel like this is our award.”

About the Honor Awards Program

Since 1949, the U.S. Department of Commerce has granted honor awards in the form of gold, silver and bronze medals. Known as the “Oscars of the U.S. Department of Commerce,” the gold award is the highest honorary award given by the department. It is granted by the department’s Secretary for distinguished performance characterized by extraordinary, notable or prestigious contributions that impact the mission of the department.

The U.S. Census Bureau is one of the 13 bureaus under the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Along with Imotichey, other team members receiving the award include: Shadana Sultan, Bernadece Boda, Charles Tippeconnic, Willette Allen, Vicki McIntire, Cathy Lacy, Marilyn Sanders and Julie Lam.

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