American Indians join tsunami relief

Author:
Updated:
Original:

In every life there is always some misery - enough to harden the edges -
but when a disaster of the magnitude of the Asian tsunami strikes, the
world must necessarily pause and see what it can do to help. Most human
beings will be touched by the momentous tragedy of whole villages, tens of
thousands of families, smashed or washed out to sea. Surprised and
overwhelmed by the sudden power of the ocean, upward of 150,000 deaths are
likely and five million survivors are in great need of attention.

The mayhem spreads out to five or more countries. Among those affected are
several indigenous peoples including the Great Andamanese, Sentinelese,
Onge, Nicobarese, Jarawa and the Shompen tribes. These tribes of the
southern Indian archipelago retain very ancient cultures, dating back some
70,000 years in their areas. Among these, mostly small tribes, the Jarawas
have remained uncontacted and the Shompens nearly so. The latest census
report counts 266 to 270 Jarawas, 98 to 100 Onges, 150 to 200 Shompen, 200
to 250 Sentinelese, 20,000 Nicobarese and 40 to 50 Great Andamanese. The
tribes from the islands of Andaman and Nicobar, situated far from mainland
India in the Bay of Bengal and devastated by the tsunami, were thought to
have perished - but at least the Great Andamanese were all saved when a
shrewd elder ordered his 50-member group uphill quickly enough ahead of the
wave. Perhaps the most feared for of the indigenous tribes are the
Sentinelese, who live on the flat North Sentinel Island. Satellite pictures
show large parts of their island completely wiped out.

The world has in fact been sincerely moved by the disaster. Japan, as
befitting its stature in the region, followed by other Asian countries, has
been the most generous contributor. The United States, after some initial
hesitation, has now mobilized with more commensurate assistance - $350
million from the government and about as much from private sources with the
efforts of American relief and humanitarian groups.

Among the early donors to charitable organizations the Rumsey Band of
Wintun Indians and the United Auburn Indian Community made a combined
donation of $1 million to Save The Children and Habitat For Humanity
International. The two organizations are providing shelter, food, medical
care and other basic necessities for children and for replacement
construction. Nationally, the National Indian Gaming Association has set up
an "Indian Nations UNISEF Tsunami Relief Fund" to gather other
contributions.

Other Indian communities and organizations pitched in as well. The Viejas
Band of Kumeyaay Indians, the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, the
Barona Band of Mission Indians, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, and the
National Indian Gaming Association all contributed to a UNICEF fund
dedicated to aiding the relief effort. Once again the traditional
compassion and generosity of American Indians is on display.

In the form of three good-hearted individuals, Indian country is also now
directly involved. Led by Dr. Robert Lame Bull McDonald, a team of three
co-coordinators is trouble shooting a relief and rescue operation from the
heart of Indian country and, we believe, with the heart of Indian country.

Lame Bull McDonald, Blackfeet and member of the Grand Traverse Band of
Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, is organizing the emergency response team
along with Potawatomi attorney Brock Albin, and with Seattle Indian
activist Robert Free. Albin and Free were already near or familiar with the
affected region as the doctor was being recruited by the World Health
Organization to assist with its relief operation. Lame Bull McDonald called
out to the other two men and the American Indian operation was on. The trio
has worked since the tsunami hit on Dec. 26, 2004 to put together teams
under the heading Native American EAGLES (Emergency Air to Ground Lift and
Evacuation Service).

Lame Bull McDonald is signaling an ongoing commitment to channel assistance
in the affected region. For the immediate moment, he is organizing the
EAGLES team, whose non-paid volunteer members should plan to spend at least
a week working as needed to assist in identifying and processing bodies and
delivering supplies. Albin said the team will need "a strong gut, an
insensitive nose, and a lot of hope, a bit of prayer," while the good
Blackfeet doctor from Montana is asking: "Can Native America band together
as one and support the EAGLES as we provide emergency medical and social
relief for the victims of tsunami country?"

While some supplies can be transported, cash donations are most encouraged.
Many supplies can be purchased in the region for less cost than shipping
from North America. Nevertheless, these supplies are needed: Medications,
ointments, anti-anxiety medicine, school materials, building tools,
mosquito tents, malaria pills, typhoid and other injections, a way to
purify water, materials to entertain kids and dry food. Native American
EAGLES will also take bandages, shovels, rugged mini-DVD video camera and
tripod, extra batteries, mosquito repellant, sunscreen, hats, backpacks,
gloves and rubber boots.

Albin, an attorney, was a founder in 1995 of Youth Imperative, Inc., an
organization that focuses on international human rights and aid to youth,
families and their communities. The Native American EAGLES project can
receive donations via this non-profit organization. Donations should be
earmarked for the Native American Disaster Relief Fund. (For information on
how to donate to the Native American EAGLES project, e-mail Dr. Robert Lame
Bull McDonald at indianrobert@msn.com or Brock Albin at
albinlaw@justice.com.)

We commend the whole range of rescue and relief work that American Indian
tribes may be able to provide to the people so devastated by this
international catastrophe. We applaud the generosity of the Rumsey Band of
Wintun Indians and the United Auburn Indian Community, as well as the
timely response of the NIGA leadership. And we encourage all tribes,
organizations and businesses in Indian country to donate and support the
courageous gesture of the EAGLES team, which joins us to the many people in
the world responding in human empathy and generosity to the victims of this
tragedy, including some three million children.

For many reasons, but particularly for its courage and directness, we
surely like the Indian hands-on project led by Lame Bull McDonald and
assisted by Albin and Free. We wish these three intrepid and responsive
brothers good and safe journeys and positive results in their endeavor to
help alleviate the human suffering. For historical and contemporary
documentation purposes, we strongly encourage Native American EAGLE Project
leaders to videotape and photograph their work and its consequences. Help
Indian America join the global family of nations to always as much as
possible provide our own best example of humanitarian empathy.

To support the National Indian Gaming Association relief effort, donations
can be sent to: Indian Nations UNICEF Tsunami Relief Fund, Borrego Springs
Bank, 5005 Willows Rd., Alpine, CA 91901.

For more information on making contributions by credit card, contact Jo
Gregg at (619) 659-9770, ext. 223.