It’s important to remember, when we talk about the United States as an empire, that its war against the various Native American tribes never really ended, it just changed a little. When the rights and needs of Native communities come into conflict with the greed of capitalists, the government still responds with violence. The reservation system was not set up for the benefit of Native Americans, it was set up to contain them. Understanding that is key to understanding why conditions on those reservations tend to be so bad. And when conditions are bad as a matter of routine, disasters hit a lot harder. The Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota has been hit hard by the latest distortion of the Polar Vortex, to the point where there are snow drifts as tall as houses, and people have had to burn clothes to stay warm:
Halverson, who represents the Pass Creek District on the Pine Ridge Reservation, described their harrowing situation to the Journal on Thursday.
“It’s been really tough,” she said. “We don’t have the proper equipment here to handle what’s been going on. We have drifts as high as some houses that stretch 60, 70 yards at a time.”
More than 10 days since the storm began, Diaz has moved on and the skies have started to clear, but the recovery process is just beginning. Halverson didn’t get dug out of her house until eight days after the storm. Others are still trapped, reachable only by snowmobile.
It seems like every time we open the road, the snow just drifts it back over,” she said.
It’s an incredibly scary situation, she explained, as many of those snowed-in are missing dialysis treatments or dealing with other medical emergencies. One family ran out of infant formula, and spent four days drifted in before attempting to leave, Halverson said.
“We even talked about using drone drops to get the baby some Enfamil, because the baby was starving,” she said.
But Mother Nature wasn’t done yet.
If being trapped by formidable walls of ice and snow wasn’t enough, subzero temperatures, brought down by an Arctic front, took an already struggling region by the neck. Temperatures dropped into the negative teens and 20s this week, and the unkind Midwest wind shredded those figures with wind chills in the negative 40s and negative 50s.
Cold like that is deadly, just another blow to a reservation already crippled by conditions, Halverson said.
“Most of our members use wood stoves,” she said. “We’re not able to get them with deliveries because of the roads. A lot of our members across the reservation have no propane, because the propane companies can’t reach their tanks to fill. Even right now in my district, we haven’t had anybody able to deliver out to these members that have no propane since the storm started.”
Oglala-based service organization Re-Member provides firewood to families on all corners of the reservation, but the drifts of snow have rendered their wood stockpile inaccessible still – and it’ll be that way for the foreseeable future.
“Our wood pile remains inaccessible,” read a Facebook post on Dec. 20. “Our skid steer and plow are out-of-service. Given the conditions, it would be near impossible to operate our equipment and unsafe for our staff to work in the conditions we are facing. We appreciate the efforts being made by many to keep the Oyate safe during these challenging times.”
“I’ve seen across the reservation some members were burning clothes in their wood stove because they couldn’t get access to wood,” Halverson said.
I think it’s likely that this distortion in the polar vortex is caused by arctic warming. The basic theory is that lower ice cover allows more direct interaction between sea and air, which builds up atmospheric pressure, stretching the vortex southward, but there’s still debate about that. What matters at this moment is doing what we can to help. You’re welcome to hunt for your own ways to do so, but this looks like the best option to me:
Any donations received at this time will be used to purchase firewood, supplies, and food to take care of those critically in need.
Contributions can be made at https://t.co/NqOSP9jVE9
— ONE Spirit (@OneSpiritLakota) December 23, 2022
I sent them what we can spare. It’s not much, but as I like to say, crowdfunding requires a crowd. The National Guard has also been helping, but there’s no question that they need everything they can get. As I mentioned before, the fact that they were already living so close to the edge has made this disaster many times worse than it might have been. I think this quote from Halverson sums it up well:
“We don’t live on our reservation,” she said. “We survive on our reservation. We’re in serious need of some help.”
When you’re in a survival scenario, even something small going wrong can kill, and this storm is definitely not “something small”. We help as we can right now, but it’s important to remember that that living situation – surviving, not living – is the result of ongoing injustice. It’s good that the government is helping in this situation, but that same government is what stands in the way when Native Americans fight for more than mere survival. Support Land Back and other struggles for Indigenous liberation, and if you can spare a little money to help in the short term, it’s sorely needed. Even if you can just spare $1, that combines with what others give, and it’s our collective power that can save lives.