Fueling Winter Warmth for Native Elders

Among the many challenges facing those who live in remote locations is sustained access to winter fuel – a limited-yet-critical resource – and a pervasive need. Across the Northern Plains, a lot of families endure harsh winters in less than ideal housing with few ways – or even no way – to access supplies they need to warm their homes. This is especially true for Elders, who often are without the financial or physical capacity to prepare themselves or their homes for winter weather.

While they do their best to stack their woodpiles and gather other supplies ahead of time, these resources diminish quickly. PWNA provides them with as much support as we can, and we are able to do so only through the generous support of donors, some of whom choose to sponsor an Elder for the winter season. This additional support means the sponsored Elder will not be forced to make the impossible choice between buying food or buying fuel.

Heating costs are also almost always higher on reservations, as many homes aren’t built adequately to warm the home or keep in the heat. Communities go as far as wrapping plastic, blankets or cardboard around their windows to hopefully trap warm air inside. The Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, for example, faces extreme poverty, harsh weather and high suicide rates. Many families are in ‘survival mode’ all winter and simply cannot afford the amount of wood or propane needed to keep their home warm, relying heavily on tribal and nonprofit aid.  

This year is especially challenging, as many reservations are under strict guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19, limiting residents’ abilities to leave their homes in search of fuel. Native Elders are also considered higher risk for the virus and are encouraged to stay home to stay safe – but cold temperatures can be just as detrimental to their health.

While no one has been able to escape the ongoing effects of the pandemic, we can still make a difference to these Elders and families now, even as we continue to support meaningful, long-term solutions. If you would like to learn more about our seasonal weatherization efforts, visit our Emergency Services page.

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