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Indian Country responds to victims of Katrina

Tribal nations across the United States are sending their support to the victims of Hurricane Katrina as federal officials pledged to help tribes affected by a disaster that battered the Gulf Coast.

The National Congress of American Indians has set up a relief fund to assist tribes and their members in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. Six federally recognized tribes are located in the three states, which were hit by wind, rain and flooding.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of the Indian Nations located in the region effected by Hurricane Katrina," said NCAI President Tex G. Hall. "It is times like this when it is important for Native people to come together to help one another out."

NCAI staff said it has reached some, but not all, of the tribes affected by Katrina. Reports so far have indicated that the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians suffered the most damage.

The Mississippi Choctaw Reservation was hit by Katrina as it was downgraded to a tropical depression. Several tribal communities have suffered "extensive" physical damage, the Bureau of Indian Affairs said. Telephone service and power have been lost in some areas.

"The BIA is committed to helping these communities get back on their feet," said associate deputy secretary Jim Cason. "We will continue to do all we can to meet that goal."

With NCAI coordinating financial assistance and the BIA addressing public safety, emergency access and emergency service, Indian Country is helping out in other ways. The Seminole Tribe of Florida sent emergency crews to the Mississippi Choctaw Reservation earlier this week, Indian Country Today reported.

Support is coming from as far away as Oregon. The Klamath Tribes are sending their primary physician, Dr. Curtis Hanst, and their pharmacist, Dr. Matt Baker, to New Orleans, the city that has endured some of the worst damage. Hanst and Baker are due to leave Klamath Falls either today or tomorrow.

"This is a devastating and traumatic event in that region and the Klamath Tribes are honored to be able to assist," said Allison Henrie, the administrative officer for the tribe's health and family services department.

New Orleans is currently in a state of chaos as tens of thousands of refugees remain stranded in a city deluged by flood waters. After losing their homes and property to the storm, people are now running out of flood, clothing and drinkable water. The death toll could be in the thousands.

The picture isn't as grim for tribal communities but some problems have been reported. Members of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana who live in Slidell have lost homes although the storm didn't claim any lives, NCAI said yesterday.

The tribe, meanwhile, is housing nearly 600 refugees at its convention center. Some are residents of New Orleans who may not be able to return home for several more months, if at all.

In Alabama, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians suffered only minor damage. But April Sells, the tribe's management director, said members of Southeastern tribes who live in the region have been hit hard.

"We're setting up a shelter for our members who are coming back to the reservation because they now have no home and no place to go," Sells said. The Poarch Creeks are also sending clothing, food and water to the Chitimacha Tribe in Louisiana, Sells said.

The Chitimacha Tribe has already taken in 400 tribal members who lived in New Orleans, the BIA said. Other communities affected are the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana and the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians.

To donate to the NCAI Hurricane Relief Fund, send donations to:
National Congress of American Indians
1301 Connecticut Ave, NW
Suite 200
Washington, DC 20036

Put Hurricane Relief in subject line of check. All donations will go to the tribes in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

A large contribution to the fund is expected from a California gaming tribe. The National Indian Gaming Association is helping to coordinate.

More Ways to Help:
Hurricane Katrina Online Resources (The Washington Post)

Relevant Links:
Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians -
Tunica-Biloxi Tribe -
Poarch Band of Creek Indians -
Jena Band of Choctaw Indians -
Chitimacha Tribe -
Coushatta Tribe -