As New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and other states reel from the impact of Hurricane Sandy, tribes have sprung into action to help the Shinnecock Indian Nation, the most significantly affected.
United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) has set up a donation center, and the Seminole Tribe of Florida has sent a disaster-response team to the Shinnecock Indian Reservation in Southampton, New York. In addition the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community of Minnesota and the Seneca Nation of New York have committed to helping in recovery as well, Shinnecock Chairman Trustee Randy King told Indian Country Today Media Network on Saturday.
“The response from Indian Country has been outstanding, and we’re thankful for the support that we’re seeing out there," King told ICTMN in a telephone interview.
USET said the team sent by Seminole Executive Director of Public Safety Jerry Wheeler will help the Shinnecock assess damage, coordinate resources and assist with state and federal documentation for relief purposes.
“We know a tidal surge of about four to six feet came into the reservation. We still do not have electricity,” King said in a statement from USET.
“The storm surge ate away the bluffs at our West Woods tribal reservation. A significant amount of bluffs there,” King told ICTMN. On the residential reservation, “there were flooded basements. Our burial, our cemetery grounds, a good portion was underwater. So hopefully we’ll be able to look into mitigation efforts, assess the damages and hopefully prevent this from happening in the future.”
With temperatures falling, the lack of electricity is serious, as many elders don’t have ways to heat their homes, King said. FEMA liaison Ashley Smith is also helping assess the needs, as is the FEMA Special Advisor for National Tribal Affairs at Headquarters in Washington D.C., Richard Flores. Both are coordinating with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Health Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture and organizations such as the Red Cross, USET said.
“Our number one priority is trying to ensure that we get the electricity on and that people’s heating concerns are being met," King said. "That’s our number one concern right now.”
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate also encouraged intertribal cooperation.
“I think one of the things that we would like to emphasize is the nation-to-nation relationship between the federally recognized tribes,” he said, according to USET’s statement. “And when it comes to providing assistance, often tribal governments are more tuned to some of the characteristics you need in order to help each other. We are a big supporter of mutual aid.”
The Seminoles embodied this theme, with response team Jason Dobronz and Keith Carson arriving in New York on November 3. The Seminoles “have lots of experience and knowledge about how to respond, recover, and coordinate with state and federal resources,” USET said.
“As you know our newer federally recognized tribes as still in the process of getting all of their people and procedures in place,” said USET Senior Project Coordinator of Emergency Management Harrell French in the statement. “This is going to be a big asset to the [Shinnecock]. We just give a very big ‘thank you’ to the Seminole Tribe of Florida.”
The Shinnecock were federally recognized in June 2010.
USET also established a Tribal Emergency Relief Fund for Hurricane Sandy response and recovery (TERF-Sandy), with funds going toward filling needs not covered by federal, state, and non-governmental agencies, the group said.
“USET is working as a pass-through for tribes, organizations and individuals that wish to make a financial donation,” USET said in a statement. “USET is working with tribes and federal and state partners to assess damage and needs for short term response and longer-term recovery.”
Donations are tax deductible, USET noted. The association is working with several agencies, including the United States Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Housing and Urban Development, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Indian Health Service and the Red Cross to identify needs and resources, according to USET's statement.
Considering what happened elsewhere, King said, the Shinnecock Nation was lucky. Elsewhere in the U.S., scores lost their homes entirely, and nearly 100 people died.
“Our thoughts and our hearts are with those who have lost a lot more than us," King said.
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