PINE RIDGE, S.D. – Hundreds of people from all over the country have contributed to recovery efforts at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservations following severe storms and flooding in May 2015. The response triggered the largest permanent housing construction effort in FEMA’s history. As part of that effort, the agency has hired 25 local tribal members to assist in that effort, and their role has been vital.
On all disasters, FEMA tries to hire people from the impacted area to provide important local knowledge. At Pine Ridge, this process was even more important, as the local hires also served to bridge the cultural gap and assisted more seasoned FEMA individuals in dealing with disaster survivors.
Glenda Red Feather performs clerical work and has served as a guide, traveling with FEMA staff around the reservation and helping to explain to disaster survivors the assistance they are receiving. Being part of positive change in her community is what attracted her.
“The reason I wanted to work with FEMA was the fact that they were providing safety and security for our people throughout the reservation,” she said. “FEMA has had such a huge impact and brought much change to the lifestyles in numerous areas around the Pine Ridge Reservation. Things like that don’t come around too often so I found it hard not to want to be able to participate in that!”
Besides assisting the disaster survivors, the local hires have also helped other FEMA staff acclimate to the reservation, as many were unfamiliar or had never been on one previously. Staff have held numerous potlucks and informal lunches, serving as a meeting of different cultures.
“Throughout our time with FEMA we were able to teach our colleagues our cultural beliefs, customs and values,” said Red Feather. “All of that now comes across when we are meeting with the disaster survivors.”
For the local hires, like all the FEMA staff, the rewards coming in assisting those impacted by the disaster. But that has extra meaning when those people are neighbors, friends and family.
“The highlight of working with the FEMA agency would most definitely have to be seeing the look on the applicants face when their keys were being handed over to them,” said Red Feather. “Some didn’t know how to express their feelings while others weren’t able to control it. It’s an amazing feeling knowing you’re a part of such a program that is changing ones’ life (or many for that matter) for the better. This job has been such an overwhelming yet remarkable job.”