Tribes raise money for tsunami disaster relief

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - As most people already know, the day after Christmas a
massive earthquake in the eastern Indian Ocean off of the island of Sumatra
launched a devastating series of tidal waves or tsunamis. The giant waves
devastated coastal areas from Southeast Asia to the eastern coast of
Africa, a space of over 3,000 miles, making this the most widespread
disaster in human history.

At last count, nearly two weeks later, more than 150,000 people were wiped
out by the devastating waves, some as big as a four-story building. The
casualties are still mounting and stories are being told of devastated
communities and threats of disease and famine in the aftermath of the
disaster.

The continuing need for aid in the far-flung areas of damage has prompted
at least four tribes and the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) to
band together to set up a fund for disaster relief to stem the growing
aftermath casualties.

One of those tribes is the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians. Viejas Vice
Chairman Bobby Barrett said that he was especially taken with a statistic
that said the majority of surviving victims were children. He decided to do
something to help.

"We as Indian people have lived through disasters of our own and we knew
that we just couldn't sit by - we had to do something to help," said
Barrett.

Teaming together with their sister Kumeyaay tribe, the Sycuan Band, each
tribe agreed to pitch in $50,000 for a total of $100,000. The money was
placed into an account at Borrego Springs Bank, a local Southern California
bank which is wholly owned by Viejas. Shortly thereafter the nearby Barona
Band of Mission Indians also agreed to donate an as of yet unspecified
amount that will be determined by the tribal council.

"We are proud to be part of this effort. It's our tradition to help people
in need and hope our contribution will make a difference," said Barona
Councilwoman Bonnie LaChappa.

The specific fund that was agreed to by the tribes was the UNICEF Tsunami
Relief Fund. UNICEF is a branch of the United Nations that is dedicated to
the world's children and is providing them with relief in the devastated
areas.

"The terrible impact on children and the desperate future they face -
chaos, disease, loss of families, homes and whole communities breaks my
heart," said Barrett.

After establishing the fund, the next order of business for Barrett was to
get NIGA on board. NIGA is a Washington, D.C.-based Indian gaming lobbying
group and has member tribes from across the nation.

"It was like Bobby Barrett was reading my mind," said NIGA Chairman Ernie
Stevens. "I had wanted to do something and here they came along."

Stevens pledged $5,000 and immediately set to work to raise even more
money. The Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma came on board and also promised to
donate an unspecified amount.

NIGA, said Stevens, has also promised to match Viejas and Sycuan with
$50,000, bringing the reported amount to at least $155,000. That figure
does not include the final amounts that Barona and the Cherokees will
donate.

Stevens is also meeting later in the week with National Congress of
American Indians President Tex Hall to discuss joining efforts to raise
more tribal money for disaster relief. Hall could not be reached for
comment.

Barrett also reported that the tribe has encouraged their employees to
donate to the fund at a local Borrego Springs Bank branch, right across the
street from tribal business operations.

The National Congress of American Indians has also set up a Web site with a
list of organizations where individuals can donate.

Stevens said that his group is interested more in just getting various
donations rather than just the account going to UNICEF and said he wants to
expand their efforts to include other relief funds.

"Our goal over the next few weeks is to raise $1 million," said Stevens.

The amount is a significant percentage of U.S. aid considering that the
Bush administration only initially agreed to $15 million in relief aid, a
move that prompted an outcry from the international community and led to
charges of stinginess. The outcry, and some claim the large tribal
donations, led the Bush White House to up the ante.

To donate to the relief fund, donations can be mailed to: Indian Nations
UNICEF Tsunami Relief Fund, Borrego Springs Bank, 5005 Willows Rd., Alpine,
CA 91901 or call (619) 659 9770, ext. 223.