Record Snowfalls Batter Indian Country
California Tribes Come to the Aid of Plains, Southwest Nations
New America Media, News Report
By R.M. Arrieta
Posted: Feb 10, 2010
While all eyes were on Haiti after a devastating earthquake ravaged the country, another crisis was unfolding here in the midwest and southwest parts of the United States, where Native American tribes are getting hammered with unusually fierce weather.
Reservations across the northern plains, specifically in South Dakota and Nebraska, and in the Big Mountain region of Black Mesa in Arizona are fortifying themselves after enduring several weeks of snowstorms with little or no heat, water or food, and impassable roads.
In South Dakota, on the reservations of the Cheyenne River Sioux and Oglala Sioux on Pine Ridge, as well as the Omaha tribe in Nebraska, residents have been dealing with heavy ice storms since January 22. Since Sunday night, a wind chill advisory has been in place.
Among the hardest hit is the Cheyenne River Sioux, where the accumulation of ice brought down
3,000 power poles, broke water pipes and hampered efforts to get food and propane by blocking roads and creating unsafe driving conditions.
“It’s safe to say over 10,000 people and 4, 000 to 5,000 homes were affected. The power is back on but it’s very hard for people,” said tribal chairman Joseph Brings Plenty. “We’re dealing with the aftereffect of trying to get some lines going. The water tower there is frozen. We have to try to get that un-thawed, which might take another week or so.”
Local elder David Bald Eagle is settling in because “we’re snowed in again. There’s no transportation really. In our place the snowdrift is so high we can’t even get to the road. Luckily, we have a wood stove and wood. We don’t have water of course but we can always melt snow. The main water line to the tribe around Eagle Butte has been broken for two weeks. We’ve had no water since then.”
Throughout Indian Country, help has been coming from tribes who are financially stable to those with few resources. Among native nations, there exists a communications network that responds to situations that adversely impact the relatives of other tribes. This has been helped by such new technologies as the Internet, which are shrinking the distances between Native peoples.
“The moccasin telegraph has never been so strong. Even though we know that First Nations always had contact with one another, our communities, until very recently, were isolated by a certain regionalism, one that was perceived as much as it was physical, because, I think, in our collective mind we felt restricted by the reservation system,” explains statement on website CyberPowwow.net
Brings Plenty said had the tribe relied solely on help from the governor’s office they would have remained in dire straits. “We are probably better off trying to respond to these emergencies on our own,” he said. “We were a week into it and still dealing with the situation out here like it was the day after — but we were running out of resources and everything.” So Brings Plenty put out a call on the Internet for help throughout Indian Country. He got a quick response.
California Indians Send Help to the Great Plains
Tribes from as far away as California came forward. The San Manuel band of Serrano Mission Indians, through their special assistance fund, worked with the Red Cross to send help.
“It’s just overwhelming and very humbling to see that much care and concern. It was really good to see the human spirit being able to reach out and be supportive at this time,” said Plenty. "I think
you have less of a bureaucracy to deal with. I think that accounts in part, for the speed we are able to dispatch our resources and I think that’s a good thing,” said Jacob Coin, spokesperson for San Bernardino-based San Manuel band, who donated $220,000 to the midwest tribal communities struck
by the severe weather.
The Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation in California in Capay Valley, provided $100,000 to assist the Cheyenne River Sioux with disaster relief efforts.
“I think the tribe felt this was a situation that wasn’t very well known or well understood and hoped that by their actions they would be able to spread the word about the situation with the Cheyenne River Sioux and encourage other people to help if they possibly can,” said Brent Andrews, spokesman for the Wintun Nation.
“This is a time for our nation to come to the assistance of another tribe in desperate need. Our Tribal Council was deeply moved by the profound damage to the Cheyenne River Sioux people. We took immediate action,” said tribal chairman Marshall McKay in a statement. “
“We stand in kinship with the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations in our commitment to help our... brothers and sisters out of this crisis.” stated chairman McKay.
The Archibald Bush Foundation provided two grants of $25,000 to match contributions made to emergency relief through The Native Americans in Philanthropy or South Dakota Community Foundation, with 100 percent reaching the tribe through support of GiveMN.org covering transaction fees.
The Oglala Sioux helped their brothers and sisters of the Cheyenne River, who were in even worse conditions than they were. The Oglala Sioux opened their health center on Pine Ridge and took in 35 dialysis patients from Cheyenne River. The Rosebud Sioux tribe sent road crews and water tankers to help out. The Navajo Nation, undergoing severe weather conditions of their own, dispatched a utility crew to restore electricity; the Santee Tribe sent drinking water; the Hochunk Nation sent in supplies.
Wal-Mart also provided emergency food and supplies, as did many other private individuals and corporations. Joe Kennedy from Citizen Energy, and Citgo Energy Assistance from Venezuela, provided funds for heating oil.
Trans Canada sent down electricians to help with the shelters.
The South Dakota National Guard, Army Corps of Engineers and the South Dakota Department of Public Safety helped out with equipment and generators.
“They did everything that could possibly be done, and I know that the funding that some of the tribes sent us -– they’re not rich tribes, they’re struggling with and trying to make ends meet,” said Brings Plenty.
“We are part of a family of Indian Nations in this country and will be there in times of need,” said Chairman James Ramos. “When San Manuel hears calls from tribal nations for help, it hits close to home, and as Indian people, we are moved to respond.”
On Pine Ridge Lakota Sioux reservation, a state of emergency has been lifted but many residents still need help with foodstuffs and propane. The snow is melting but roads are extremely muddy and undriveable.
In the Southwest in Arizona in the communities of Big Mountain and Black Mesa, the same holds true where the snow has melted and extremely muddy roads are keeping some residents stranded.
Record Snow in the Southwest
George Howard with the National Weather Service branch in Flagstaff said, “The biggest problems have been getting food, water and medical care to those who may need it because they find the roads impassable due to large amounts of snowfall or even after the snow has melted, impassable roads due to the muddy and wet conditions because so many of the roadways on the Navajo nation and tribal lands are graded dirt.”
He said the winter storms have been unusually strong. “For instance here in Flagstaff our average annual, snowfall is 109 inches for a season. We’ve already had 107, and we still have two months of wintry season to go.
The San Manuel band also donated $50,000 each to the Hopi and Navajo Nations for emergency relief operations as they continue efforts to provide basic supplies. The Navajo reservation is 17 million acres and the Hopi reservation is 1.5 million acres. It is difficult to reach residents who live in the remote areas of these vast reservations in northern Arizona due to impassable roads because of the snow and mud.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs, as well as tribal, state and county offices responded to the crisis, as well as the National Guard, which dropped basic supplies to people living in remote parts of the reservations.
“This winter has brought difficulties and hardships on many of our people and communities on the Navajo reservation,” said Herman Shorty, chairman of the Navajo Nation Commission on Emergency Management.
San Manuel has always offered a helping hand to their Indian brothers and sisters in need.
“We have a long history of having helped other tribes when natural disasters befall them. About a year-and-a-half ago, when the Havasupai community at the bottom of the grand canyon in Arizona was flooded out by huge rains, and lost almost all of their economic resources which are tourism and river guides,” the band donated $1 million to fund an economic recovery plan,” said Jacob Coin,
spokesperson for the San Manuel tribe.
“When some of the Southern California tribes lost homes and other resources on their reservation to the wildfires of ‘06, and ‘07, the tribe was able to help restore some of the housing and economic support to those tribes,” he added.
Said Brings Plenty, “I’m just grateful to all of the individuals out there and on behalf of my people I want to say ‘Wopila Tanka’ for everything. It means ‘thank you greatly.’ ”