A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in so-called South Dakota across Native communities in the wake of massive climate change fueled flooding. Blizzards and heavy rains have flooded homes and cut off access to roads along with knocking out power to the area. Many have noted that the State has been slow to respond in comparison to other areas hit by the flooding in the MidWest, only furthering the day to day humanitarian disaster of settler-colonialism compounded by climate change and crumbling infrastructure. Currently, several autonomous mutual aid groups are mobilizing to offer aid. The following is a report back from the Fort Collins Mutual Aid Network. Check the bottom of this post for various resources from the Dandelion Network on how to support these efforts.
Donate to Fort Collins Mutual Aid Network HERE
I am writing to check in after our return from Oglala Lakota territory (to be clear, some FCMA members are still out there, I am hoping they reach out at some point so I can include their recent experiences in this communique). The flood waters are continuing to rise, and during the 2 days I was out there I realized that floods of this nature can be incredibly daunting because the slow-motion nature of these disasters can make it harder to think, act, etc. Even though you know what’s coming, it feels like you have time to act, and urgency sometimes escapes you. Philosophy aside, there is incredible urgency to the situation.
“The National Guard was there with a “water buffalo” water truck, but multiple different reports from community members who received the water said that it was impotable…”
We spent our days there in an emergency community kitchen in a christian owned recreation center near the Oglala district. The recreation center has a large gym, a kitchen, showers, and bathrooms. Many houses in this district and across the Rez have lost access to running water due to failing water pipes. The National Guard was there with a “water buffalo” water truck, but multiple different reports from community members who received the water said that it was impotable, meaning only for washing dishes, flushing toilets, etc, and not for drinking, WTF!
Many are also running incredibly low on food, partly because of large scale systematic poverty and racism, partly because of the recent government shutdowns, and partly because of the flood. Not too surprising was the fact that despite possibly 30 families being displaced in and around this region, only a few individuals decided to take up on the opportunity to stay in this disaster shelter. I was left pondering why more folks didn’t come through, and I imagine it is related to denial, to not wanting to give up, to feeling more comfortable in their relatives homes or even in their car than in a more colonized space. I think one reason folks didn’t want to stay at the emergency shelter is related to the greater context of working within a christian space on indigenous land, which is entirely separate disaster that I am not going to speak much to at this time, but needless to say, Colonialism is sinister, complex, dynamic, and often discrete.
“Many are also running incredibly low on food, partly because of large scale systematic poverty and racism, partly because of the recent government shutdowns, and partly because of the flood.”
Added to this complexity and to the nuances of the shitshow that is colonialism was the fact that we aligned with the tribal governments, which are hierarchical structures that heavily contribute to inequality, especially in regards to distribution of resources.
At first it seemed like a good move because they appeared more organized, and we had no idea what to do, being Wasi’chus that just showed up in hopes of helping… but after witnessing some of the dynamics, I think some of us at least regretted having worked with them…on multiple occasions, community members that are less inflicted by the flood, but still incredibly impoverished and struggling, would walk into the center which happened to be filled to the brim with food, to ask for a food box. I saw them turn away a friend of mine who is raising at least 8 nephews, nieces, cousins, grandchildren, or children, while sarcastically offering him cereal and juice.
Their reasoning, they said, was that the boxes needed to be reserved for those who are more heavily affected by the flood. All the while, I wonder how much of the prime food supply was being siphoned off of the top by those who are doing the organizing. Another problem with the tribal government sponsored effort is that they are offering short term jobs to different folx within the community to help in the disaster relief, but it seems that those who are being offered jobs are within an already established “in group,” while many others are still left to suffer.
Flooding on Lakota reservations in South Dakota is unbelievable. It’s one thing to see it in pictures and quite another to see it with your own eyes. Pray for Rosebud, Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River. I’ve never seen anything like this.
— Ruth Hopkins (@RuthH_Hopkins) March 27, 2019
There was a very special degree of warmth in the community kitchen. The women we were working with really really appreciated our help and a healthy camaraderie developed quickly. Times that I wasn’t cooking up a storm, I spent driving around to other districts to visit friends and check on things. Some friends I visited were nearly out of water and were incredibly relieved to have us visit and help them go on a water run. A very notorious and admirable granny who I visited cannot access her home because of a very swollen creek. She has been sleeping in her car at the top of a hill in one of the neighborhoods in the Wounded Knee district. It was very sad to see her living in those conditions but incredibly inspiring to see her spirits and her resilience. The supplies I offered her clearly provided her joy, which is an incredibly valuable resource in such trying times.
WATCH: Residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota have been stranded due to severe flooding pic.twitter.com/B7kxVgU6nT
— Bloomberg TicToc (@tictoc) March 26, 2019
Jermz and Rosey are currently coordinating with individuals within the Red-Shirt Table community to work on resource distribution. A very respected friend in the community recommended that we stop working with the district organizers and tribal government and that we work on forging bonds directly with many individuals within the community to assure that resources are being shared fairly.
“Both the Cheyenne and White Rivers will continue to swell for possibly months to come as snow melt near the continental divide begins its course down to the ocean, which will most likely lead to the necessary evacuation of possible hundreds of homes.”
I think it would be best for any of us heading out that way to focus our efforts on both the Wounded Knee/Manderson community and also the Red-Shirt Table community. Neither have the most established/well funded district government/structure and are both inundated with mud or flood waters. Red Shirt Table and Oglala are at the highest risk of future flooding. Both the Cheyenne and White Rivers will continue to swell for possibly months to come as snow melt near the continental divide begins its course down to the ocean, which will most likely lead to the necessary evacuation of possible hundreds of homes. It seems the government/communities are doing everything in their power to avoid evacuation, resorting to sand bagging, etc, in hopes that evacuation can be avoided. The evacuation and relocation process will be incredibly resource intensive, logistically challenging, and in most ways you look at it, impossible. However, from what I was sensing, this daunting challenge of evacuation may become inevitable.
Please Please Please reach out to your greater networks and continue the effort of fundraising/food gathering. Most valued food resources are meats. Canned, frozen, or preserved ideally. Non-perishable foods are also welcome, especially calorie packed foods that don’t require cooking. Coffee and tobacco could be quantified as needs, especially to those who are addicted to these substances. Water Jugs are certainly needed; I know lots of families that are hauling water in milk cartons. $$$ is always the most useful resource because it can be given to individuals directly and subsequently spent as needed.
I know some of you are planning a trip towards the end of this week. Be prepared for anything. Winter gear, water boots, survival gear, etc. Who knows when the evacuations will occur and what that will look like. One thing I know is that bodies on the ground do so much during these times; we can be glimmers of hope amongst a dark whirlpool of environmental racism/cataclysm.
In love, solidarity, and apocolypse
2019 Midwest Flood Response
We’re monitoring, sorting, and pulling out information and resources in response to the flooding in Eastern Nebraska and surrounding areas while centering the needs and efforts to support communities that are at higher risk in the face of disaster.
Current Asks & Requests for Aid
Current Mutual Aid Efforts
- Indian Center, Inc. is organizing a donation drive for the Pine Ridge Reservation.
- Front Range Mutual Aid Network is responding to an ask from the Lakota at Pine Ridge.