Winter Risk for Elders
When winter storms hit like the one Laura described on the Cheyenne River Reservation in January 2010, or the one that left Pine Ridge with even four-wheel drives halted in December 2009, or the one that left Navajo and Hopi in northern Arizona without access to food supplies in January-February 2010, National Relief Charities is a first responder. In the Navajo/Hopi storm, said to be “the biggest snow in 17 years,” NRC delivered from our ready stock of disaster relief supplies, along with other organizations such as NAPI that donated hay for livestock and the National Guard that air-dropped MREs (emergency rations) onto the Navajo and Hopi Reservations.
It was good to read in Indian Country Today Magazine that President Obama and FEMA are supporting legislation that would give American Indian tribes direct access to emergency relief when disaster strikes. According to ICTMN’s Rob Capriccioso:
Tribal leaders, citing past slow and bureaucratic disaster relief to their reservations, have pushed for this flexibility for at least a decade. They say that under current law tribes experience an unnecessary loss of valuable response time when they seek federal assistance after a catastrophic natural disaster or manmade incident.
Federal Emergency Management Agency officials said that the decision to support increased tribal sovereignty came in response to concerns raised by Indian leaders based on specific disasters and slower-than-desired responses to them in recent years.
Surely Eagle Butte, Pine Ridge, and Navajo have seen the effects of these delays. The Stafford Act of 1988 (which is linked to the Disaster Relief Act of 1974), currently mandates that only state governors can request FEMA aid. If Congress passes the Stafford amendment currently pending, tribes would no longer have to complete a state application and process prior to seeking disaster relief. As sovereign nations, the tribes could go directly to the President and FEMA for aid. This would surely help to reduce delays in getting aid and getting the word out when tribes are at risk due to environmental emergencies.
When a disaster hits in a community that is already struggling economically, it’s that much tougher to deal with than it would be for another community. Timing is crucial. So is support. Weathering a rough storm in remote communities with high poverty can mean running out of food, water, medicine, and firewood, or a way to call for help.
Sadly too, running out of firewood is not limited to a storm. We know all too well from Navajo Elders such as Jim J. that some communities lack an available source of firewood, and without transportation, burning sagebrush, furniture, and clothing is not uncommon. We all have to watch out for each other during a storm but also during winter in general, when Elders are especially at risk. Here’s a story where you can read about more Elders like Jim, along with some tips on Elder care to reduce their winter risk.