Bringing to light the disaster recovery needs of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe was the focus of the Pine Ridge Partnership Summit hosted by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) and the South Dakota Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD). The Summit, held on March 11 at the Prairie Winds Casino on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, brought together more than 70 individuals representing 37 agencies seeking to learn how they can assist this community in need.
The reservation is located in remote southwestern South Dakota and is among the most poverty-stricken areas of the country. In May of 2015, a series of storms left flooding and wind damage to hundreds of homes, which were already in strained conditions. The Oglala Sioux Tribe requested a federal disaster declaration, which was granted by President Obama in August. This historic decision made for the first time FEMA’s Individual Assistance program was made available directly to a tribe, rather than through a state.
FEMA has been here on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for about eight months, and is repairing or replacing more than 300 homes as part of its efforts. However, the overall need is much greater than that because additional storms later in the year created more damages that are not covered by the federal disaster declaration. In fact, only one in five of the households that registered for FEMA aid were eligible for federal assistance programs. That leaves a sizable group with unmet needs.
That’s where the South Dakota VOAD and CDP have stepped in. Because the Oglala Sioux disaster did not initially receive a great deal of media coverage coupled with cultural reluctance to accept help from outside the reservation, many local agencies were not aware of the level of need. FEMA has hired two tribal members to serve as Voluntary Agency Liaisons (VALs) and that are helping to build some capacity within the tribe. FEMA VALs have reached out to voluntary agency partners in an attempt to bridge that gap and a new team was born.
One of the biggest challenges is that there was not a strong relationship between most members of the South Dakota VOAD and with organizations within in the reservation. A partnership has been established with Re-Member, an organization that has spent approximately 17 years working on Pine Ridge, assisting residents with basic housing needs. Re-Member has the local know-how and relationships needed to make the connection with tribal members in need.
The goal of the partnership summit was to take the team to the next level, combining the local knowledge of Re-Member with the wide variety of resources and expertise that other agencies can bring to the table. There are lots of great ideas out there, and now is the time to begin implementing them, but also, that solutions developed are in harmony with the Oglala people is vital. This is a unique opportunity for all segments of the volunteer community to come together to help assist the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation!