RAPID CITY, S.D. -- When the tornadoes hit the Pine Ridge Reservation it set off a chain of events that changed the lives of nearly everyone on the Reservation. In the case of Del Brewer, an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe who left the Reservation in 1958 to attend college, the tornado brought him home again.
Brewer is the Deputy Federal Coordinating Officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), assigned to help coordinate recovery efforts on the Reservation after severe storms and tornadoes hit the area on June 4 and 5. He was born and raised in the Reservation's Porcupine District, and his mother, Catherine Brewer, 82, still lives in the family home. Brewer's intimate knowledge of the Reservation, its people and its customs, has helped to build a bridge between recovery workers and the survivors of the Pine Ridge disaster.
Formerly with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) as Aberdeen Area Director, Brewer joined FEMA in 1997 as part of a special team focusing on tribal relations. In that capacity, he has worked with tribal communities in South Dakota, North Dakota, California and New York. "My responsibilities here at Pine Ridge give me an opportunity to work in a true government to government environment. I can see how effective FEMA's tribal policy is and make sure it's properly implemented with my own people on the Reservation," Brewer said.
"What most impresses me is how the community took the initiative to help themselves," said Brewer. "Our Lakota tribe has a tradition of pulling together. When the tornadoes hit in June, the tribe mobilized immediately to conduct their own search and rescue operation. Once recovery began, they moved easily into a partnership with other tribal communities, as well as federal, state and volunteer agencies."
This homecoming for Brewer is also making the journey to recovery a little easier for hundreds of Pine Ridge residents who, day by day, are rebuilding their lives.