At least three American Indian tribes in Oklahoma have sent representatives to the Houston area to help with Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.
Nine members from the Muscogee Creek Nation’s Lighthorse Police Force and one representative from the tribe’s Emergency Management Services have arrived in the area and will be starting to help with relief efforts on Wednesday, according to Lighthorse Police Chief Robert Hawkins.
“It’s our duty to protect and serve,” he said.
The team traveled down to the area on Tuesday, and started seeing water across pasture land in College Station, Texas, he said. The team will be deployed to flooded neighborhoods and will work to save people who are stranded at their homes, Hawkins said.
“You see what these folks are going through. You see the images on TV, but in person it’s something else,” he said.
The Muscogee Creek Nation is the fourth-largest tribe in the U.S. and more than five percent, or more than 4,000 citizens, are located in Texas.
“Creek citizens live in the area,” Hawkins said, “but protecting the eight million others is also our job.”
At least 20 people have died from the storm, according to The Associated Press. Some places in the Houston area have seen more than 50 inches of rain. The convention center in Houston has been opened as a mass shelter. Another shelter is open in Dallas for victims.
Muscogee Creek Nation Principal Chief James Floyd said in a statement that whenever citizens are in need, the tribe has an obligation and responsibility to lend aid.
“We are well trained and have the resources to help, it’s our duty to react and do what we’ve been asked to do, for our citizens and for everyone in danger or those who have been affected,” Floyd explained.
Hawkins said the team will be lending support at least through the weekend and may travel to Louisiana if help is needed there.
“We’re putting ourselves in harm’s way,” he noted, “but we have no reservations at all.”
The Cherokee Nation, based in Tahlequah, is also helping with relief efforts. The tribe has set out with seven vehicles, two rescue boats and a trailer full of ATVs on Tuesday to assist in the location and rescue of Hurricane Harvey victims in south Texas.
In addition to manpower, Cherokee Nation Businesses has donated $15,000 to American Red Cross Relief efforts.
There are more than 3,000 Cherokee Nation citizens in the greater Houston area and 1,000 citizens in San Antonio, according to the tribe.
“Anytime there is a need or a crisis, the Cherokee Nation has grown and prospered, we have unique resources that even some states don’t have,” noted Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker.
“We have folks that want to be deployed.”
Tribal officials are staying on contact with citizens located in the area, Baker said.
“I don’t care who you are, you’re one earthquake, one hurricane, one fire away from disaster,” he said. “It can happen to anybody.”
Cherokee Nation’s Emergency Management Director Jeremie Fisher is helping coordinate the tribe’s relief efforts after the state of Oklahoma asked for assistance on Monday.
“There are still people stranded on rooftops and on cars, and rain is still falling. Many Louisiana rescue teams are pulling out of Texas to go back to their communities since they are in the path of the tropical storm,” Fisher said in a news release. “We have a community base in Texas, and we want to be proactive in lending our resources in every way.”
The marshals’ dive team, swift water rescue team and special operations team also helped in other disaster zones, including the EF-5 Joplin tornado of 2011 and Illinois River flooding. They also were dispatched 12 years ago to help with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
“I thought Katrina would be my last hurricane rescue assignment, so this brings about mixed emotions,” said Sgt. Danny Tanner in a statement. “We’re going in to do what we are trained to do, help families and the people of Texas.”
Baker said the teams planned to be deployed for two to three weeks. He called it an honor for the tribe to have such highly trained teams.
The Quapaw Tribe, meanwhile, has sent 14 men from the tribe’s fire/rescue team Tribal Marshal’s Office and Canine Unite.
The teams rescued 21 people during their first day on Tuesday. They also saved four dogs and three cats, according to Jeff Reeves, Quapaw Tribe Fire Chief, in a news release.
“It’s a tough task with lots of hazards — alligators, snakes, and rising water,” Reeves said. “So we have to stay focused to keep ourselves safe, keep each other safe, and to save as many people as we can.”
Reeves said he was not sure how long the teams would be in the area. Instead, they would stay “as long as we’re needed,” he said.
Quapaw Chairman John Berrey noted that the tribe has needed its own help in the past, such as the 2011 Joplin tornado and other tornados.
“I’m always so proud of our people for the way they respond and help in a bad situation,” he said in a statement.