PINE RIDGE, S.D. – Hundreds of families’ lives were turned upside down and were severely affected after the devastating storms and floods hit Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Many homes were beyond repair. Families and friends were forced to find other places to live, doubling and tripling up in homes that were habitable, at a time when there was already a significant housing shortage on the Reservation.
Dirt and gravel roads took a heavy beating, with washouts numerous and culverts damaged. This limited access for individuals to basic needs, including food and medical attention.
Even before the storms, resources within the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) were already stretched to the limits. Recovery was going to take time… and take many partners working as one.
Housing and roads were among the priorities identified by Oglala Sioux Tribal President John Yellow Bird Steele. Two task forces with leaders and members from the tribe, OST organizations, and federal agencies, were established to confront these challenges head on. Their task is to identify the issues, and work to make things better not only now, but for the future.
The OST Housing Task Force, is co-chaired by the Oglala Sioux Lakota Housing and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The focus has been on “One Nation - One Number” – OST’s initiative to document unmet housing needs and capture a comprehensive number of people living on the reservation. The hard numbers can better tell the story of overcrowding and cramped living conditions than anecdotal details alone. And while some numbers are currently available, there is no uniformity in how they are compiled or methodologies used. Consistency and accuracy of the numbers is vital for all the various funding opportunities for tribal programs.
Another initiative is underway to combat the high energy bills on the reservation by delivering a simple weatherization program outlining ways in which homeowners can improve energy efficiency in their homes. It focuses on providing information about no-cost and low-cost ways of saving energy – things that individuals can do themselves.
The OST Roads Task Force, is co-chaired by the Oglala Sioux Tribe-Department of Transportation (OST-DOT) and the Federal Highways Administration. As with the Housing Task Force, many tribal federal partners have come to the table. And like the Housing Task Force, the Roads Task Force found the lack of data documenting tribal roads and conditions can contribute to inadequate funding and opportunities for road construction, repairs, equipment and personnel.
For two months, assessment teams traveled the reservation, collecting information on location, construction, and condition on 1720 tribal roads totaling 466 miles to be entered into the OST-DOT data base. It will be included in the Geospatial Information System (GIS) mapping of Pine Ridge Reservation, as part of the OST “One Nation – One Map” project.
Estimates of repair and maintenance costs are also being developed to demonstrate funding needs and support prioritization of tribal road improvement projects and maintenance. This will also provide a baseline for the future by detailing the current condition of all roads.
Preparing for the Future
Building capability within the Tribe has also been a priority focus. Education, training and other initiatives provide opportunities for the tribe to enhance their ability to plan for and respond in the future.
- Strategic Planning and Management Training was offered to Tribal leadership and agency staff teaching the importance of planning and walking through a step by step planning process and create a plan for the area they were responsible for. This will augment the work of an OST Planning Office, which is in development.
- Tribal officials and employees attended FEMA’s “Emergency Management Framework for Tribal Governments” course. This training provides tribal leaders a basic understanding of emergency management and their role in leading and directing their tribe in implementing comprehensive emergency management systems.
- Tribal leaders and members representing multiple tribal agencies received training on FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program projects, what could be considered eligible and requirements to apply.
- In coordination with FEMA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and the Oglala Sioux Tribe, an in-depth assessment of all GIS activities on the reservation is underway. This assessment will analyze current staffing levels, equipment, IT infrastructure, and data needs. In addition, BIA will offer their “Principles of GIS” course to the tribal staff responsible for GIS activities.
- One of the needs identified for the Pine Ridge Reservation is a structural fire suppression and prevention program, which currently is not available. Federal and tribal partners are taking steps to solve this issue and funding opportunities are being explored.