Photo courtesy of Chuck Banner at the Lakota People’s Law Project
As president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, I write today with a message of solidarity—and also to thank those of you who have supported my people through an extremely difficult time these past weeks. I know that many of you shared the post from my public relations director, Chase Iron Eyes, and signed onto our letter to Donald Trump asking him to make a disaster declaration for South Dakota and my home, the Pine Ridge Reservation.
We still have needs for essential items and volunteer support, and a long struggle ahead. Donations and other contributions from allies like you are helping us make real strides. The aid that has come to us thus far from private citizens makes it clear that Pine Ridge is not alone in our time of need.
Neither are we alone in our struggle. The U.S. Congress recently went on recess without having decided on the scope of an aid package for many major disaster areas. While communities throughout the Midwest, California, and Puerto Rico are all still reeling from the fallout of climate-related catastrophes, the legislature remains gridlocked on providing relief.
The hangup? President Donald Trump refuses to endorse any aid package that includes more than a pittance for Puerto Rico. Trump has clashed with Democrats who are asking for a substantial aid package for the island, which is still in dire need more than a year and half after Hurricane Maria brought unprecedented levels of destruction down upon it.
In the linked video, made by the Lakota People’s Law Project, you’ll see how recent storms have impacted our Oglala Nation’s families. I know that many in Puerto Rico still face similar problems.
A few weeks back, I watched as Carmen Yulín Cruz, mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, described the ongoing struggles for her island. I was heartened that, even given her own dire situation, she took time to mention the emergency here at Pine Ridge.
Our mutual situation makes you wonder: Why does President Trump refuse to send needed aid to poor communities of color in the aftermath of natural disasters?
Trump wants to prioritize funding for certain areas of the Midwest at the expense of Puerto Rico. Since, as a sovereign nation, we have our own relationship with FEMA, the threat of ongoing federal neglect remains very real for us as well.
I sent a formal letter yesterday to Mayor Cruz expressing our tribe’s solidarity with Puerto Rico. I’m hoping it’s possible we can work together to increase awareness of our twin emergencies, bolster the chances of federal relief, and provide for our citizens. It is my sincere hope that both Puerto Rico and Pine Ridge will receive all funding needed to rebuild.
Please join us and hold Congress and FEMA accountable to provide basic, essential aid for underserved communities throughout our country. With compassion and cooperation, we can build together toward a brighter future—for Pine Ridge, for Puerto Rico, and for the world we share.
Julian Bear Runner
Oglala Lakota Nation President