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Monday, November 9, 2020

The Devastating Impact of Disasters in Native American Communities

November is American Indian Heritage Month and as we celebrate the rich culture, traditions and contributions of Native Americans and Alaska Natives, we also recognize that Native communities have endured challenges that many Americans will likely never encounter.

Whether it’s tackling a severe weather emergency or reducing risk amid a global health pandemic, reservation communities face unique barriers to disaster aid and emergency response. Year-round realities such as food insecurity and contaminated water, overcrowded housing, lack of internet access and health care make navigating an emergency even more complex for tribal communities, especially those located on remote and impoverished reservations.  

These tribes are all too familiar with the short and long-term effects of a disaster, as many remote communities frequently face weather emergencies. Preparedness is critical for impoverished Native communities, where even daily life can feel like a crisis, and disaster recovery typically takes longer on the reservations than it does in mainstream America due to a lack of resources.

Currently, charities are working with tribes to deliver critical resources to communities that are continuing to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Native Americans are 5.3 times more likely to contract COVID-19, so addressing food insecurity and delivering basic supplies such as clean water and PPE means delivering a fighting chance at stopping the spread of the virus.

Prior to COVID-19, preparation and response to weather emergencies was the most imminent need as harsh weather conditions can strike remote tribal communities at any moment – from fires and floods in the summer to tornadoes and blizzards in the winter. Unfortunately, the lack of local first responders and mainstream media coverage of reservation disasters means that help is often delayed or nonexistent. 

What can you do to help? Many charities are assisting tribal communities during emergencies, with chronic needs and/or with disaster preparedness, such as Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA), the Navajo Water Project, Boys & Girls Club Native Services and Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health. Donations are critical to their work so contributions are always appreciated. 

Last year, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) contributed $25,000 to PWNA to assist with disaster recovery on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, following severe winter storms. The funds helped tribal partners repair damaged homes and invest in a disaster recovery support group. This year, the CDP was the first to donate to PWNA for COVID-19 relief and recently contributed an additional $175,000 for COVID-19 response efforts with Plains tribes and the Navajo Nation.  

As communities nationwide continue to navigate COVID-19 – and any other emergencies as they happen – we remind everyone to consider helping America’s most vulnerable populations so that they can confidently tackle whatever disaster comes their way.

Written by Josh Arce, president & CEO of Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA). One of the largest Native-led nonprofits in the U.S., PWNA is a national Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) member, first responder for the reservations and partner in emergency preparedness planning with under-resourced tribes. PWNA also addresses food insecurity, education and animal welfare. Learn more here: www.nativepartnership.org

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