SACRAMENTO, Calif. - In response to last year's Southern California wild
fires, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and the San Manuel Band of
Mission Indian are donating $1 million apiece to a nearby chapter of
Habitat for Humanity.
The donation, which Morongo's public relations people are calling one of
the largest donations ever received by Habitat for Humanity, is meant to
rebuild homes for the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians whose reservation
was severely scorched in last fall's wildfires.
The Southern California wildfires devastated more than 30,000 acres of
Indian land largely in Riverside and San Diego counties. It was one of the
biggest disasters to ever hit the state of California. Seventy homes were
destroyed at San Pasqual. The fund is aimed primarily at a project that
would restore housing for tribal elders that were lost in the fires.
On June 23, amid much fanfare, more than 100 sailors from the U.S.S. Ronald
Reagan and several of their family members started a week-long "blitzbuild"
that sought to build as many houses as they could by the following week.
By the end of the first week, four houses were nearing completion and the
tribes vowed to build as many as 20 more in the next six months. Morongo
Chairman Maurice Lyons vowed to keep building until the project was
complete or as he said "the money runs out."
The crew from the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan was the first to participate in the
event and worked on the initial four houses. Lyons draws considerable pride
from the namesake of the ship that the first construction crew worked on
and said that "Ronald Reagan was great for Indian country."
After the U.S.S. Reagan crew is finished, the project will proceed with
other volunteers. Sources at San Pasqual said that there will be other
volunteer crews from across the United States and that as a volunteer
project there will be a natural ebb and flow in the number of volunteers
that come to help.
Lyons said that he is pleased with the work that has progressed thus far
and maintained that this project is an example of Indians helping each
During a ceremony for the project, Morongo tribal members presented
representatives from Habitat for Humanity with a blanket and did a blessing
ceremony at the first construction site.
Morongo has taken an active role in the aftermath of the wildfires. The
tribe made headlines last year when they made a $1 million donation to the
Red Cross while some of the fires were still raging across Southern
California. Additionally the tribe provided hot meals for families
displaced by the wildfires.
San Pasqual Chairman Allen Lawson expressed gratitude for the gift and said
that without it their reservation would not have been likely to recover as
Lawson said the first house was built for a 95-year-old tribal elder and
that several tribal members over 70 are the first in terms of priorities.
San Pasqual, like many reservations, is a hodgepodge of structures
including regular houses, double-wide trailers and other buildings. Lawson
observed that in many instances tribal members are receiving better housing
than they lost last year.
In addition to the donations, Lawson said Morongo also gave fire-displaced
members of San Pasqual redeemable cards for department stores and air
filters. Since many of the homes had smoke damage, Lawson explained that
the purpose of the smoke filters was to clean smoky air that had
accumulated during the fires.
Overall, Lawson said he is grateful that San Manuel and Morongo stepped in
to help them and feels that is what Indian country is all about.
"How do you put this kind of emotion into words, how do you put a value on
it" asked Lawson. "You can't. If they (San Manuel and Morongo) had not come
in we'd still be scrambling to rebuild out here."