Legal services for Native Americans affected by disasters

“We were able to move the needle in the lives of numerous clients. Individually, we helped many of our clients navigate difficult legal situations.” – Brian Candelaria, staff attorney at OILS

Tribal communities in Oklahoma are in great need of disaster preparedness. Tribal poverty rates are even higher than the general poverty rate in Oklahoma. When a Native American family is affected by a disaster or personal crisis, such as an illness or a loss of employment, it can be devastating.

Oklahoma tribal members experienced multiple disasters between November 2022 and April 2023, including 32 tornadoes, 370 wildfires and an ongoing drought. In response to these disasters, CDP’s Midwest Early Recovery Funds continued to partner with Oklahoma Indian Legal Services (OILS), supporting their efforts to provide valuable and reliable information and legal services to Native American communities across Oklahoma.

With funding from a CDP grant, OILS appointed a Disaster Legal Navigator in November 2022 to assist tribe members affected by disasters. Navigators assessed whether applicants needed legal assistance, briefing services, legal representation and other referral services.

So far, the organization has provided 21 direct and 134 indirect services. OILS also organized regular events for tribal and non-tribal community members to prepare end-of-life documents and provide resources to rural tribal communities.

OILS hopes to be in a better position to assist disaster-affected tribal communities due to pending Supreme Court decisions impacting Indian Country. OILS’ ongoing and future goals include preparing clients for disasters, opening 12 will clinics and providing disaster mitigation education materials.

CDP is proud to support OILS’ efforts to provide legal services and disaster-related assistance to Native Americans in Oklahoma affected by low-attention disasters.

Photo: Brian Candelaria (he/him), staff attorney and disaster navigator at Oklahoma Indian Legal Services (OILS), spoke at the 2023 National VOAD on a panel with other CDP grantee partners. He is pictured here at an OILS outreach event. (Photo courtesy of OILS)