This year, we are honoring the original people of the lands we live on. We’re acknowledging the systemic racism, marginalization, and history of disinvestment and cultural genocide that Native Americans have survived and are still affected by today.
We strive to use our voice as allies to Native Americans especially in times of disaster.
In the U.S., Native American and Tribal Communities are disproportionately affected by weather and climate-related disasters. Native Americans are six times more likely to live in an area susceptible to wildfires than other groups. The effects of such disasters highlight and layer upon the disparities and barriers to access resources that members of these communities face. Unfortunately, even major events that affect Native communities do not receive much attention or media visibility.
What you aren’t seeing on the news
Here are a few events/concerns you likely did not see on the news that are top of mind for us as we consider post-disaster needs:
Wildfires in the West threaten tribal lands as well as public and private land that has been home to Native Americans for millenia. The tribes affected in 2021 include: Hoopa Valley Tribe, Greenville Racheria and Tule River Tribe in California; Naz Perce Tribe in Idaho; Northern Cheyenne, Fort Belknap Indian Community, Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana; Confederate Tribes of Warm Springs and Kalmath Tribes in Oregon; and Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation in Washington.
Ninety percent of the western United States is experiencing severe or exceptional drought. The drought has forced water cutbacks for residents and tribes. Several tribes requested assistance with feed for livestock. Access to water and drinking water has long been an issue for many rural, isolated communities and the drought has exacerbated these issues. Farmers, ranchers and tribes have been forced to sell of livestock and ask for donations of hay from outside their region.
Hurricanes have affected tribal communities throughout the southern and eastern portions of the U.S. Hurricane Ida’s path of destruction included the United Houma Nation and the Atakapa-Ishak of Grand Bayou and Plaquemines Parish, the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe, the Biloxi-Chitimacha Confederation of Muskogee, Bands of Grand Caillou and Dulac, and the Isle de Jean Charles.
Severe Storms and Flooding
Severe storms and flooding have caused damage for tribes throughout the country. For members of the Red Lake Nation in Northern Minnesota, 75 to 200 hail-damaged homes urgently need repair before winter. Winter Storm Uri affected members of tribal nations in Texas and Oklahoma, including the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma.
Native American communities continue to suffer unequal losses due to COVID-19, though due to inadequate data collection and other practices we don’t know the true impact. During the first seven months of the pandemic, incidence of COVID-19 among Native Americans was 3.5 times greater than among white Americans. Death rates are one in 475 for Native Americans compared to one in 825 for white Americans and one in 645 for Black Americans.
The complexity of disaster response and recovery for tribes
Many disasters on reserves or reservations, if declared for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance, do so through the state or county. In 2013, The Sandy Recovery Improvement Act amended the Stafford Act to allow federally recognized tribal governments to request a presidential emergency or major disaster declaration. Today in the U.S., 574 federally recognized tribes have that ability. There are more than 200 tribes that do not have federal recognition and are not eligible for federal funds or FEMA assistance.
Houma Nation, with 19,000 enrolled tribal citizens encompassing six parishes in Louisiana, was devastated by Hurricane Ida. Houma Nation is recognized by the state but not federally recognized, so it is not eligible for FEMA support. They are working with the Mississippi band of Choctaws, other neighboring tribes, parishes, the state and private donors to recover.
Despite significant impacts, only 13 tribal nations have received a federal disaster declaration in 2021: Mashantucket Pequot Indian Reservation, Colville Indian Reservation, Yakama Reservation, Mississippi Choctaw Indian Reservation, Puyallup Indian Reservation, Grand Ronde Indian Reservation, Colville Indian Reservation, Crow Indian Reservation, Nez Perce Indian Reservation, Narragansett Indian Reservation, Mashantucket Pequot Indian Reservation, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and Mississippi Choctaw Indian Reservation.
Other major impacts Natives are facing
Some intense issues to Native people are getting just a brief moment in the media spotlight but deserve more attention. The recent news surrounding Gabby Petito’s disappearance should be a reminder of the responsibility of media to provide the same urgency and attention to Indigenous, Black and brown relatives.
In Wyoming, only 30% of Indigenous homicide victims were covered in the news compared to 51% of white victims. There is also a discrepancy between how Native and white victims and their families are portrayed by media, with articles about Native cases more likely to use violent language and represent the victim in a negative light.
Also of note is the continued movement to protect tribal lands, sacred waters and the environment. In Minnesota, Indigenous communities and their allies are fighting to stop an oil pipeline. The new pipeline would carry 760,000 barrels of tar sand oil per day through tribal lands and near the headwaters of the Mississippi. The connected waterways span 32 states and two Canadian provinces. This is part of a wider movement to push back on pipelines and other projects that are environmental risks and a violation of treaty rights.
The discoveries this summer of more than 1,300 unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools in Canada shocked and horrified many. This discovery also brought attention to a troubling legacy of cultural genocide and systemic racism that haunts Native Americans. One researcher, Preston McBride, estimated that the number of graves that could be discovered in the U.S. is more than 40,000. In July, Nine Rosebud Lakota children who died 140 years ago at the former Carlisle Indian Industrial School were returned to their homeland.
How and where CDP is helping
CDP’s Native American and Tribal Communities Program is working with five grantee partners in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota to support long-term recovery from floods, severe storms and the pandemic. We are supporting these partners as they build capacity in their own communities. Beyond the Native program, CDP has recently granted to organizations responding and assisting with recovery from the 2020 wildfires in California and Oregon and the winter storms in Oklahoma. We are continuously highlighting the ways in which Natives are helping Natives and how funders can be allies throughout CDP’s work.
When I helped with wildfire grantmaking in California and Oregon this spring, I started all of my conversations and fact-finding with two questions 1. Who is in need that are we missing? and 2. What tribes and/or reserves were affected? Often I learned that other funders and disaster service-providing organizations were not able to answer the tribal question, or responded that “they” (natives/tribal leaders) weren’t at the meetings. My observation is that they weren’t there because they were not invited.
Raise your hand if you are
The work I do every day is so important and meaningful. I don’t believe that funders and organizers purposely overlook Native American communities; I think that they are invisible, uncounted or forgotten to many. As Native Americans in Philanthropy notes, we are all Native funders, even if “Native” is not in our mission or strategies.
Do you fund education, housing, economic development, children’s issues, food insecurity or leadership development? Then you can and should be funding in Indian Country. We are all disaster funders. Does your mission include arts, education, legal services, health, housing or food security? All of these issues are affected, and usually exacerbated, by disasters.
I ask that in considering disasters, you go beyond what makes the national news and pay attention to the “fly over” states and Native lands and communities. Ask the questions perhaps no one else is asking to get at who we are missing. Consider the marginalized communities – they may have less preparation and mitigation plans, making recovery that is much more difficult.
As we honor the original people of the lands we live on please consider investing in our work with Native grantee partners or directly to tribal communities or organizations. Do you want to visit about funding CDP’s Native and Tribal Communities Disaster Recovery Program? Please reach out to me. I would love to visit.
Most importantly, build relationships and get to know the amazing assets and strengths of Native communities and peoples.