Lakota People's Law Project
With South Dakota still in crisis following destructive flooding nearly three weeks ago, Oglala Sioux (OST) Tribal Chairman Julian Bear Runner said today that the people living on the Pine Ridge Reservation have gone without federal aid for too long.
Bear Runner is joining his state’s legislature in calling for a federal disaster declaration for South Dakota, which would trigger quicker action by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to address the suffering and devastation caused by winter storm Ulmer and the subsequent flooding at Pine Ridge and other parts of South Dakota.
“The Oglala Nation needs support in the aftermath of this devastating storm,” Bear Runner said. “Many of us continue to be stranded in, or out of, our homes without access to potable water. This is unacceptable. Rather than declaring emergencies that don’t exist, President Trump needs to pay attention to the ones that do. I call upon him to send us help before lives are further disrupted.”
The South Dakota State Senate has already passed a resolution, SR-7, urging South Dakota's congressional representation to seek a federal disaster declaration. Bear Runner has now launched a petition backing SR-7.
Tribal communities and Lakota state senators and representatives have been keeping the public aware of the devastation on reservations around the state and said they are committed to continue working through the proper channels to find relief for the Oglala Sioux Tribe and its citizens.
“This storm’s aftermath has provided many examples of the strength and resiliency of our community,” said Red Dawn Foster, a state senator representing the 27th District. “I want to say wopila tanka to our tribal leadership and the Oglala Sioux Tribe Emergency Management team for tirelessly working around the clock, and to everyone else who has banned together to help.
“But the devastation has become more than we can handle alone,” she continued. “We have depleted our tribal reserves, and we need help from the outside. Our immediate need is to identify and assist our most vulnerable populations who have been impacted: our elders and those who are unable to address medical needs due to washed out roads — and the many who do not have to access to clean drinking water.”
According to Steve Wilson, the Oglala Sioux tribe’s emergency management director, 1,500 tribal citizens remain displaced from their homes and 75 to 100 structures have been damaged by the flooding. 500 people remain without access to potable water, culvert systems are blocked and roads are impassable. Wilson estimates that the tribe is looking at millions of dollars of damage.
"President Donald Trump must hear us and declare a natural disaster for the Tribal Nations in South Dakota and the State of South Dakota,” said state representative Peri Pourier. “The Oglala Sioux Tribe's current status of systemic lack of resources and response from the United States Executive Branch is not sustainable. We cannot recover without a declaration from President Trump. The New York Times is listening, allies from around the country are listening. Where is the elected leader of the United States?"
Oglala citizens expressed gratitude that South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem sent a team of National Guard troops to Pine Ridge to assist with water delivery after the storm but stressed that there will still be long term needs once the immediate effects from the storm subside. Bear Runner said that further aid from the governor is also essential.
Bear Runner said he will be requesting assistance from Governor Noem and the South Dakota National Guard to work in cooperation with Oglala Sioux Tribe citizens on engineering, road and bridge repair, dam reconstruction, culvert replacement and other infrastructure needs where large equipment and manpower is essential. “We have always been a resilient people and we look forward to working with the National Guard to repair our infrastructure so our people can resume their lives in our beautiful homelands,” he said.
In addition to his requests for state and federal aid, Bear Runner is calling upon President Trump to cease efforts to expedite the Keystone XL pipeline (KXL), including rescinding a recent executive order which he said attempts to circumvent environmental oversight of the pipeline project. “Keystone would transport some of the world’s dirtiest energy from a Canadian tar sands field under waterways that our Sioux tribes depend on, posing a special threat to our sister nation of Cheyenne River,” he said. “And the pipeline is related to the flooding. The use of fossil fuels has led to this extraordinary weather event and many other disasters. Keystone XL will only continue to exacerbate the cycle of destruction in the future.”
Trump’s executive order on March 29 could nullify a Montana court’s injunction against construction of KXL, which would move 800,000 gallons of crude oil daily through the United States to the Gulf of Mexico across unceded Sioux treaty land. “Trump’s decision to ram KXL through while our families suffer feels like being kicked while we’re down,” Bear Runner said. “We won the Battle of Greasy Grass — Little Big Horn — and we’re surviving a slow genocide to this day. This battle over KXL is not just on our own behalf; it’s for the health of our entire world.”
Foster said she believes an opportunity exists amid the turmoil. “As the threat of environmental disaster due to climate change has become more and more apparent, so does the need for strategies to rebuild a more resilient community,” she said. “This catastrophe, although very trying, is an opportunity to rebuild stronger than ever. The Oyate is strong and resilient and has overcome many obstacles to remain a sovereign nation. We must take this opportunity to rebuild our reservation in an ecologically sound way that holds true to our Lakota culture.”
Direct monetary donations to the Oglala Sioux Tribe here: http://www.oglalalakotanation.info/ostrelief/
Here is a list of needed resources and contact information for other forms of direct relief: https://www.lakotalaw.org/resources/oglala-flood-relief
The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the 501(c)(3) law and policy center, the Romero Institute. It is working directly with Julian Bear Runner and the Oglala Sioux Tribe to seek relief for the tribe.